West Virginia and Manchin to get a boost from mine cleanups

Biden administration announced $260 million for coal mine reclamation grants days after Manchin endorsed Deb Haaland for Interior secretary

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III is one of the most closely watched Democrats, if not the most closely watched, in the year’s upcoming legislative battles in a Senate divided 50-50.  (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III is one of the most closely watched Democrats, if not the most closely watched, in the year’s upcoming legislative battles in a Senate divided 50-50. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 1, 2021 at 3:25pm

West Virginia will be one of the main beneficiaries of the more than $260 million for coal mine reclamation grants announced Monday by the Interior Department, less than a week after Joe Manchin, the state's senior senator, endorsed President Joe Biden's nominee to run the department, Deb Haaland.

States such as West Virginia and Wyoming that have suffered the most from dramatic declines in coal demand will get most of that money through grants that aim to provide an economic boost to communities that long depended on the mines for their livelihood.

Laura Daniel Davis, Interior's principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said in a release that the grants boost local economies while addressing environmental damage.

"The job of cleaning up our lands and waters and revitalizing our communities doesn't end with this round of grant announcements — or the next," Davis said. "We look forward to working with Congress to ensure that we can make the needed investments to clean up abandoned mines, as well as orphan oil and gas wells, across the country."

Biden administration officials have repeatedly cited such cleanup projects as a way aggressive environmental actions can also help create jobs for blue-collar workers.

[Interior pick Deb Haaland wins key Manchin endorsement as GOP grouses]

That's partly in response to Republican critics who have said Biden's early executive actions, such as rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, are hurting the economy and putting people out of work.

The latest round of grants came as welcome news to Manchin, one of Biden's most important Capitol Hill allies. The senator, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has made mine reclamation a top priority. Manchin was quoted in the administration's funding announcement.

Manchin's role

"I thank President Biden for his strong support for these much-needed programs and I look forward to continuing to work closely together to ensure these hardworking communities are protected and given new economic opportunities," Manchin said.

The Senate's 50-50 split has made Manchin the critical man-in-the-middle swing vote on a wide range of issues.

Manchin is under particular pressure representing a coal-heavy state at a time when the new administration is pushing to move the country away from its reliance on fossil fuels.

Several Republican members of the committee used the recent confirmation hearing of Interior nominee Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., to hammer the administration's energy policies.

During that hearing, Manchin solicited a commitment from Haaland to work with him on extending the Abandoned Mine Land grant program. He cited that commitment in announcing his support for her nomination.

On Monday, Manchin highlighted his intention to extend the AML program — the fees that pay for the grants are set to expire in September.

"While over $8 billion has been disbursed to states for AML reclamation projects since the passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, there is still much more work to be done to clean up damage to the land and water in those communities," Manchin said.

The fiscal 2021 funding announced Monday includes $152 million for the AML grant program and $115 million through the Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization grant program, which funds economic development projects.

West Virginia will receive about $19 million from the first program and $25 million from the second.

AML grants, funded in part by a fee collected on all coal produced in the country, go to 25 coal-producing states and three tribal programs. The grants are used for purposes such as closing mine shafts, reclaiming unstable slopes and treating polluted water.

There is more than $10 billion worth of work remaining to reclaim abandoned mine sites, according to the department.