CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The U.S. Department of the Interior on Thursday issued guidance for nearly $725 million in funding available this fiscal year for the reclamation of abandoned coal mines and cleanup of acid mine drainage.
The guidance provides information about project eligibility, priorities and interpretation for the use of funding from President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure package. It is part of an overall plan announced earlier this year to spend $11.3 billion in the U.S. abandoned mine lands program over 15 years.
The guidance also clarifies how the grant funding differs from traditional fee-based grant distributions authorized by the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
The funding is available to 22 states and the Navajo Nation. Among its provisions, the guidance encourages prioritizing projects that invest in disadvantaged communities, maximize the reduction of methane emissions, hire former coal industry workers and involve public comment and review.
Reclamation of shuttered coal mine sites is crucial to preventing environmental pollution and returning land to its natural setting. Contaminants can seep into waterways and harm wildlife if not properly handled after a mine closes.
The funding is considered key to removing toxic metals and returning fish and wildlife to waterways that haven’t been vibrant for decades.
In a statement, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said the Biden administration “is committed to addressing legacy pollution and helping working families who face hazardous pollution, toxic water levels, and land subsidence both during mining and long after coal companies have moved on.”