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Abandoned Mine Land Fund Reauthorization: Selected Issues

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Publication Date: March 2005

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL32373

Topic: Energy (Coal industry)
Environment (Mining and mineral resources)

Abstract:

The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA, P.L. 95-87), enacted in 1977, established reclamation standards for all coal surface mining operations and for the surface effects of underground mining. It also established the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) program to promote the reclamation of sites mined and abandoned prior to the enactment of SMCRA. To finance reclamation of abandoned mine sites, the legislation established fees on coal production. These collections are divided into federal and state shares; subject to annual appropriation, AML funds are distributed annually to states with approved reclamation programs. Since the program's inception and through FY2004, collections have totaled $7.1 billion; appropriations from the fund have totaled $5.5 billion. The unappropriated balance in the fund approached $1.7 billion at the end of FY2004. As of the end of FY2004, roughly $1.1 billion of this sum is credited to the state share accounts, of which nearly $430 million alone is in Wyoming's account, because -- even though most of the sites awaiting cleanup are in the eastern part of the nation -- coal production has shifted westward. Consequently, the western states have been making significantly larger contributions to the fund in recent years.

Authorization for collection of AML fees was scheduled to expire at the end of FY2004, and was extended nine months to the end of June 2005 by the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2005 (P.L. 108-447) while Congress continued to debate changes to the program. A number of bills were introduced during the 108th Congress to reauthorize fee collections and make changes to the program that would address concerns about the mechanics of the program, the fee structure, and the unappropriated balances. A Bush Administration proposal (S. 2049/H.R. 3778) proposed to refund, through a significant increase in appropriations, unobligated state balances over a 10-year period. These balances would be returned to states and Indian tribes that had completed reclamation of their Priority 1 sites. These states would no longer receive grants from the AML fund itself, freeing up funds to be targeted to states with sites awaiting cleanup.

House and Senate legislation -- H.R. 3796 and S. 2086 -- differed greatly in some respects from the Administration proposal. These bills would have maintained the distinction between state and federal shares and would have required that 50% of annual contributions be returned to states even if cleanup of priority abandoned mine sites had been completed. States and tribes would have been allowed to use the money for other purposes if cleanup of AML sites had been completed. The House, Senate, and Administration proposals were in agreement to end an allocation of a portion of AML collections to the Rural Abandoned Mine Land Program, a program that has received no appropriation since FY1995. The FY2006 budget submitted by the Administration is essentially the same as the plan proposed for FY2005 with the exception that the fees based on coal production would not be lowered in the FY2006 request. As of mid-March, no legislation had been introduced. This report will be updated as developments warrant.