Clinton seeks more mine cleanup money

In his new budget request submitted to Congress Monday, President Clinton proposed an additional $25 million in abandoned mine cleanup money. Critics said the amount is a drop in the bucket.Clinton included the increased funding for the Abandoned Mine Land, or AML, program in the U.S. Office of Surface Mining request for the 2000 financial year.OSM Director Kathy Karpan said the proposal includes $22 million for basic state grants for AML projects and $3 million for the Appalachian Clean Streams Initiative."The surface mining program has already accomplished an impressive amount of reclamation," Karpan said in a prepared statement. "But much still remains to be done."Although $4 billion has been spent on abandoned mine reclamation efforts to date, we're facing a backlog of more than $2 billion in known abandoned mine reclamation work that needs to be done," Karpan said. "Obviously, the additional $22 million requested for state AML grants will be a tremendous boost toward that effort."The AML program was created by Congress in the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Through AML grants, OSM pays 100 perecent of the costs for reclaiming abandoned coal mine left unreclaimed or inadequately reclaimed before the enactment of SMCRA.The AML program is funded by production of fees of 35 cents per ton of surface mined coal, 15 cents per ton of coal mined underground, and 10 cents per ton of lignite coal. OSM collects the fees from coal operators.Over the years, the Clinton administration and previous administrations have sought less AML funding than Congress ultimately provided.
The AML fund has an outstanding balance of more than $1.5 billion, but only a fraction of that is used each year to clean up environmental and safety problems at AML sites. Instead, the money is used to help the federal budget appear balanced on paper.Of the $3.9 billion in high-priority AML projects, about $2.5 billion, or 65 percent, have not been cleaned up, according to an OSM report."New problems are constantly added to the inventory, as conditions worsen at old mine sites and as developing expands into old mining area," the OSM report said. "And this represents only a small part of the total problem, as no systematic effort has been made to inventory these problems."AML problems are concentrated in Applachian coal states, such as West Virginia and Kentucky. West Virginia has about $562 million in AML projects that need to be addressed, according to OSM.Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., has consistently fought to have more of the AML fund spent on cleanup projects."I applaud the administration for requesting a funding increase for this program," Rahall said. 
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.
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