Abandoned-Mine Cleanup Could Cost Twice the Federal Estimate

According to a second report released by the nonprofit Ohio River Institute, the U.S. Interior Department has drastically underestimated the costs of reclaiming abandoned mines around the U.S. Currently the Office of Surface Mining estimates an AML liability of $11 billion.

However, the Ohio study argues that figure relies on decades-old estimates and fails to consider inflation or administrative costs. Instead, the report says reclaiming the inventory of abandoned mine lands will cost closer to $20.9 billion.
Since OSMRE’s reclamation program started in 1977, it has cleaned up almost 1 million acres at a cost of $7.9 billion, when adjusted for inflation. That represents 27% of the total inventory.

In total 22 states possess a significant inventory of abandoned coal mine lands. However, almost 85% of the remaining damage is found in seven states: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Alabama, Virginia and Tennessee.

According to the report, these abandoned coal sites contribute substantial methane emissions into the atmosphere. Taken together, abandoned coal mines are the nation’s 11th largest source of methane emissions, the report says, citing EPA figures.

Cleaning up these sites is an economic opportunity, the report says. Repairing half the remaining damage in the next decade would create about 7,000 direct jobs and around 10,000 indirect jobs.

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