Ken Wardís series on the Abandoned Mine Reclamation program could not have come at a more critical juncture in the life of this program.As Mr. Ward points out, the reclamation fees that fund the program will expire Sept. 30, leaving the program without a revenue stream. Equally important, the series also emphasized that much abandoned mine reclamation work remains to be done in the coalfields across the country.The National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs is an organization comprising 26 states and three Indian tribes operating AML reclamation programs. The association is in its 26th year. Since 1978, the association, in conjunction with its individual members, has vigorously promoted mine reclamation and worked tirelessly to keep the AML program adequately funded.Most notably, in the past five years, officers and members of the association have written numerous letters to the Clinton and Bush administrations and key lawmakers on Capitol Hill emphasizing the need for increased AML funding. On at least four occasions, we have testified before congressional committees and briefed congressional staff, pleading for increased funding to address the backlog of AML reclamation. We have alerted those committees and administrations to the Sept. 30 end date, highlighting the urgency for an extension of the program.Although there has been a marked increase in congressional attention to the AML program this year, there has been no extension granted.Time is running out.
If the AML program is not reauthorized, the real losers will be the citizens of the coalfields who live near hazardous conditions caused by abandoned mines. Even the AML programís harshest critics do not deny that significant hazardous AML problems remain and require reclamation.It would be a public disservice and shame to fail in reauthorizing this beneficial program when the remaining needs are so great.While the association acknowledges that the AML program requires targeted adjustments after 26 years of service, we are certain that the programís underlying mission remains as necessary today as it was in 1978. Ideally, the adjustments should be addressed comprehensively in conjunction with a fee extension. However, with fee expiration looming on the immediate horizon, a simple one-year extension to the program may be the only viable course of action.In order to reclaim the remaining AML problems, the associationís member states and tribes require more time and funding. These remedies can come only from a cooperative effort among the states, tribes, interested third parties and Congress.The association is hopeful that an extension to the program will occur before the clock stops and further jeopardizes the safety of our coalfield residents.Steve Hohmann is president of the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs, in Frankfort, Ky.