A coal industry tax that funds abandoned mine cleanups will likely be extended, at least for another seven weeks.The House on Wednesday continued the Abandoned Mine Land, or AML, tax as part of a resolution to fund federal government operations through Nov. 20.The measure is expected to be approved by the Senate by today.Lawmakers need to pass the spending resolution to keep government open while they continue to argue over a budget for the 2005 financial year, which starts Friday.The AML provision gives coal state lawmakers more time to work out a longer extension of the mine cleanup program.Without congressional action, the AML tax for mine reclamation will expire today. If that happens, thousands of acres of abandoned mines across the coalfields will go unreclaimed.Two weeks ago, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., added a nine-month AML extension to a Department of Interior budget bill. At the time, Byrd said his move was aimed at continuing the AML program temporarily so that a language for a long-term extension could be worked out.This week, lawmakers included language similar to Byrd’s in the House version of the continuing resolution to keep government running. Like the broader bill, the AML language expires Nov. 20.
“Senator Byrd has thrown us a lifeline so that we can live to fight another day for a longer term and more comprehensive extension of the AML program, and, as importantly, a comprehensive solution to the problems faced in the retired coal miner health care program,” Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., said Wednesday afternoon.“An effort, I might add, that would be greatly enhanced by a change in administrations.”Rahall and Byrd have said that the Bush administration has not made reauthorization of the AML tax on the coal industry a priority.Also, they argue that Bush’s extension proposal does not provide a long-term fix for a United Mine Workers’ retiree health-care plan that is financed by AML fund interest.Congress created the Abandoned Mine Land, or AML, program in 1977, when it passed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.Under the program, coal operators pay 35 cents per ton of surface-mined coal and 15 cents per ton of underground-mined coal. The money is supposed to be used to clean up coal mines that were abandoned before 1977.Since the program began, coal operators have paid more than $7 billion into the fund.
But, as The Charleston Gazette outlined in a series of articles last month, more than $1.3 billion of AML money have been diverted to other projects. (See http://wvgazette.com/section/Series/Abandoned+Promises.)