It will cost $ 126 million to clean up abandoned Tennessee coal fields, report says
Tennessee has more than 14,000 acres of abandoned coal fields, but the cost of remediation – like replanting trees and improving water quality – far exceeds the federal funding available for it. State, according to a new report.
The report from the Ohio River Valley Institute, a think tank dedicated to examining the Appalachians, concluded that the total cost of reclamation of old coal mines across the country is $ 26 billion. The federal government’s budget: $ 11 billion.
The vast majority of the country’s abandoned coal mines are in the seven Appalachian states: Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Old coal mines can cause a host of environmental problems, including water pollution and acid mine drainage, and present physical hazards to residents of neighboring communities due to landslides and flooding.
More than 75,000 Tennessians live within a mile of an abandoned mine, in an area that encompasses two dozen counties in eastern Tennessee, according to the report.
Most of the abandoned coal mines, defined by the federal government as having ceased operations before 1977, were surface mines in Tennessee, said Landon Medley, who has advocated against mining for decades as a member of the Statewide Organization for Community eMpowerment, or SOCM.
But deep mines, drilled underground in the first decades of the 20th century, also pocket Tennessee’s coal deposits, he said.
“Nobody even counted them,” he said.
Tennessee receives about $ 3 million a year from the US Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mines used to clean up sites, according to the Department of Environment and Conservation.
It would take more than $ 126 million to clean up known sites, the report estimates.
Federal funding for the cleanup comes from the surface mining recovery and enforcement office of the coal companies, which pay a fee based on the amount of coal they produce.
The federal government distributes funds to states based on the fees generated in each state.
In Tennessee, the decline of the coal industry has translated into lower royalties from coal companies and fewer federal cleanup dollars.
In fiscal 2018, only five mines – two surface mines and three underground – produced coal in Tennessee.