Abandoned Mine Land reclamation projects help support local economies

Hundreds of abandoned mine lands lie across Wyoming. These historic sites were abandoned prior to the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

The State of Wyoming has been working for over four decades to reclaim and remediate these sites to avert environmental and human health impacts. In addition, residents and communities financially benefit from these projects.

In 2019, the Abandoned Mine Land Division (AML) program had 86 projects that totaled over $54 million. These projects varied from filling underground mine tunnels with concrete grout to filling large open pit mines with tons of dirt.

These projects helped employ 774 individuals.

Based on the data collected and provided by AML to the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services’ Research and Planning Office, the 2019 projects helped stimulate local economies by more than $155 million.

So far in 2020, AML has had 38 projects that have totaled over $29 million. The division expects that there will be a total of 96 projects totaling $67 million by the end of the year. It is estimated that the economic benefit will be nearly $201 million.

“Obviously, the core benefit of these projects is to reclaim the land back to productive use and reduce the environmental and human health impacts left by these abandoned mines,” said Todd Parfitt, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Director. “However, these projects have also financially stimulated Wyoming communities and our citizens for decades.”

Since 1977, over 25,000 acres have been reclaimed and 110,942 cubic yards of concrete grout have been placed in underground mine workings. These underground mines are found throughout Wyoming and within many communities. Underground mine workings can lead to sinkholes or subsidence.

“Wyoming’s management of the AML program has transformed former coal mines into hundreds of acres of pasture, trees and water features,” Governor Gordon said. “It truly is a form of recycling. Wyoming gets the benefit of millions of dollars from the coal and these areas are restored for the benefit of our communities.  During these challenging economic times, we have lengthened our stride to provide jobs through this valuable program.”

The funds for the AML projects are generated through current coal mining. A fee is collected on each ton of coal produced and then distributed to states for reclamation projects. 

“As Wyoming produces most coal nationally, we in turn pay the most into the AML program to help remediate these abandoned sites,” said Alan Edwards, DEQ Deputy Director and AML Administrator. 

According to Edwards, the AML fee collection is slated to end in 2021 if the funding is not reauthorized by the U.S. Congress.

Both U.S. Senators John Barrasso (R- Wyo.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) have brought forth a new bill (S. 3971, 2020) for reauthorization of the abandoned mine land fee.

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