On June 17, U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi introduced legislation to reauthorize and modernize the collection of the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Reclamation fee. The AML fee collection authority is set to expire in September 2021.

The bill reauthorizes fee collection for seven years until September 30, 2028, prioritizes cleanup of the most environmentally hazardous abandoned mine sites, and lowers the fee by 35% to provide relief to coal producers as production declines.

The Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fee Reauthorization Act prioritizes using $2.2 billion in previously collected AML fees to reclaim the most environmentally hazardous abandoned mine sites in America. The bill will make it easier for local conservation groups to partner with state and local agencies to fund and conduct reclamation activities.

“Releasing the $2.2 billion in AML fees already collected will reinforce our commitment to making the reclamation of these sites our top priority,” Barrasso said. “Lowering the fee level will give coal producers the relief they need to stay in business and continue to create revenue for abandoned mine cleanup.”

It has been nearly 15 years since Congress last updated the AML program, Barrasso said.

“Reauthorizing the AML fee would ensure that our country can continue the important reclamation of these environmentally hazardous mine sites while making timely improvements to the program,” Enzi said.

The Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation fee is assessed on each ton of coal produced. States receive one-half of the fee collected from coal production in their state and the other 50% is the federal share, which is also used for mine reclamation. The fee is deposited into the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Trust Fund. It is disbursed each year to states and tribes to reclaim mine sites that operated prior to 1977 and have no existing responsible owner.

Fee collection is authorized by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA). There are 25 approved AML programs overseen by the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement (OSMRE), an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).

According to OSMRE, there are 6,679 unfunded reclamation projects. The cost to reclaim these sites is estimated to be $12.5 billion. This bill will facilitate the reclamation of the most environmentally hazardous sites across the country while providing important updates to the AML program.

The AML Fee authorization expires on Sept. 30, 2021. The Barrasso-Enzi bill reauthorizes fee collection for seven years, until Sept. 30, 2028. It also lowers the per-ton AML fee for all categories of coal by 35%.

The proposed legislation pays down the $2.2 billion balance of the AML fund in installments of $140 million per year over 15 years. These “accelerated grants” would be paid to uncertified states and may be used for the reclamation of the most environmentally hazardous sites.

The bill also includes a provision championed by Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL-18) that authorizes states to establish partnerships with non-governmental organizations in their communities to reclaim certain projects.

“Among industry’s primary concerns with the program have been the diversion of funds away from their intended purpose – the reclamation of coal mines that were abandoned prior to 1977 – and the lack of oversight to ensure expended funds are used properly,” said, Rich Nolan, NMA president and CEO. “This legislation will help to refocus the program on priority reclamation projects and examine the oversight required to ensure funds are not squandered on overhead and administrative costs.”