Stabilize or Sink? The RECLAIM Act: A Funding Opportunity for Abandoned Mines

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Updated: May 16, 2019

Have you ever thought about what is under your feet in Western North Dakota? An abandoned coal mine is likely not at the top of your list, but it should be. As these abandoned mines age, they pose significant hazards to communities in North Dakota. North Dakota has a program in place to address these hazards, but funding is limited and set to end after 2021. The RECLAIM Act (H.R. 2156), if passed in Washington D.C., would provide funding to the state of North Dakota for abandoned coal mine reclamation projects.

Abandoned coal mines are a danger to people of North Dakota

There are hundreds of abandoned coal mines scattered across the western half of North Dakota. What exactly is an abandoned coal mine? An abandoned coal mine is a mine that was active before The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) was enacted. Before SMCRA, companies and miners didn’t have any obligation to restore mining sites when they were finished. SMCRA helped protect coal communities from the devastation of future abandoned coal mines.

There are many abandoned surface and underground mines throughout North Dakota. According to the ND Public Service Commission (PSC), these abandoned mines can pose dangerous risks and safety issues for people in North Dakota. The underground mines are aging and are known to cause sinkholes or “cave holes” that people, vehicles, or equipment can fall into. Some of the abandoned mines are poorly documented so the risks might be unknown to the people in the area.

Dwindling funding for abandoned mines

North Dakota has an Abandoned Mine Lands program that has federal funding to stabilize sinkholes and reduce other hazards such as high walls from surface mining. However, the funding and program’s future is uncertain beyond 2021. After the final grant, the program could end due to lack of funding. Bill Dodd, the assistant director for North Dakota’s Abandoned Mine Lands program, says “we think that we could spend at least another $40 million on high priority abandoned mine land reclamation if we had that money,”. It is extremely important that these abandoned mines are restored, and that North Dakotans are kept safe from the hazards associated with abandoned mines.

RECLAIM Act – a national funding solution for abandoned mines

The RECLAIM Act (H.R. 2156) is bipartisan legislation that was introduced into the House on April 9th, 2019. It would provide 1 billion dollars to states around the country to assist in desperately needed abandoned mine projects and to support coal communities. If this legislation passes, North Dakota is set to receive roughly 38 million dollars. This funding would cover almost all of the high priority abandoned mine reclamation in North Dakota and keep North Dakotans safe from these dangerous abandoned mines.

Reclamation is job creation

In addition to addressing public safety, the RECLAIM Act would bring jobs and economic stimulation to North Dakota through these projects. These abandoned coal mine projects would require many workers and contractors to complete. In rural communities, this boost, in the form of jobs and local revenue, is needed. The RECLAIM Act provides benefits to North Dakota both directly, through funding, and indirectly through job creation.

Support the RECLAIM Act

Coal communities and landowners that are impacted by abandoned coal mines need this funding. North Dakota needs this funding to restore high-priority, dangerous abandoned coal mine sites to ensure public safety. Urge your North Dakota Representative Kelly Armstrong to support or sign on as a sponsor of the RECLAIM Act (H.R. 2156).

Kelly Armstrong

Email: https://armstrong.house.gov/zip-code-lookup?form=/contact/email-me

Bismarck Office Phone: (701) 354-6700