Click here to watch Senator Barrasso’s opening remarks.
The hearing featured testimony from Ms. Glenda H. Owens, Deputy Director, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement at the U.S. Department of the Interior; Mr. Rob Rice,
Deputy Cabinet Secretary and Director, Division of Land Restoration at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection; and Mr. Don Newton, Administrator, Abandoned Mine Land Division at the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.
For more information on witness testimony click here.
Senator Barrasso’s remarks:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
“And thank you for holding today’s very important hearing.
“The Abandoned Mine Land Program plays a vital role in supporting the reclamation
of former coal mine sites in my home state of Wyoming and of course across the country.
“The program targets the most environmentally hazardous coal mine sites in our nation and communities depend on this program working efficiently to address threats to public safety.
“Coal producers in Wyoming are among the largest set of contributors to the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund.
“In fiscal year 2022, Wyoming contributed $54.9 million to the Fund.
“This is nearly 60 percent of all the money received last year.
“So, Wyoming’s outsized contributions have existed for decades. This wasn’t a one-time thing.
“And since the beginning of the program, only half of the funds they collected on coal production in Wyoming have actually made their way back to reclamation activities in my home state.
“Most of the fees collected on coal production in Wyoming go to other states with reclamation needs.
“In other words, Wyoming’s coal production is essential to reclamation activities all across America.
“Despite this fact, the Biden administration has worked tirelessly to kill coal production in Wyoming.
“The Biden administration has blocked new coal leases.
“It has consistently moved the goal posts for lease modification requests.
“It has slow-walked permits.
“This strategy will only make it more difficult to reclaim the sites that we all agree need to be cleaned up.
“So instead of killing coal production, Chairman Manchin and I worked to put the Abandoned Mine Land Program on a sustainable path.
“In 2021, Congress modernized the program by reducing the fees on coal producers and authorizing the reduced fee for 13 years.
“We provided relief to coal producers so that they can continue mining coal and funding the program.
“Because – again – without coal production, there is no resource secure enough for funding for this program.
“So thank you, Mr. Chairman, for working with me on this important legislation last Congress.
“In recent years, Congress has made additional changes to the Abandoned Mine Land Program.
“We provided additional resources to address unfunded reclamation needs that total more than $9 billion.
“And we provided flexibility to states to determine how best to spend reclamation dollars.
“We recognize that states’ reclamation needs are not identical and that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work.
“Since Congress took action, the Biden administration has imposed new hurdles on states implementing the Abandoned Mine Land program.
“This is despite the fact that states have over 40 years of experience carrying out the program.
“Ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent properly is a principal responsibility of Congress and federal agencies.
“This oversight, however, should not get in the way of achieving the objectives of the program. The new requirements that the Department of the Interior is placing on states is going to take their attention away from the important work of mine reclamation.
“For example, the Department is now requiring states to assess the economic impacts of a reclamation project.
“It is also requiring states to assess potential greenhouse gas emission reductions of a reclamation project.
“While these may be interesting data points, they having nothing to do with the mission of the program. The mission of the program is to reclaim abandoned mines.
“Instead, the Department is going to force states to hire outside experts and consultants and spend more time on unnecessary paperwork.
“This is a complete waste of time and tax payer dollars. The Abandoned Mine Land Program is critical to the public safety and environmental quality of communities all across America.
“The Biden administration shouldn’t twist it into another bureaucratic boondoggle in the name of climate change or so-called environmental justice.
“The Department needs to get out of the way and let states get busy reclaiming abandoned sites.
“Thank you Mr. Chairman.”