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Obama seeks $1 billion to redevelop old mines

BECKLEY, W.Va. — President Obama’s 2016 budget includes $1 billion over five years to redevelop abandoned coal mines in Central Appalachia as the region struggles to recover as coal jobs continue to plummet.

The $1 billion in new spending would assist communities severely impacted by hazardous abandoned coal mines and water pollution. The aim would be to revitalize the economies of these areas and restore waterways.

 The $200 million annual program would be administered by the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation and Enforcement. In a budget highlight paper, OSMRE explained the unappropriated funds would be available to states to expedite cleanup and redevelopment of abandoned mine sites.

“The president’s Budget proposal strengthens areas that are in great and urgent need of immediate attention,” said ODMRE Director Joe Pizarchik.

As part of the administration’s initiative to revitalize the coalfields, it has requested an accelerated distribution of the funding from the Abandoned Mines Reclamation Fund.

During a conference call with reporters Monday, Pizarchik said OSMRE and other federal agencies will join together in an effort to invest in workers and communities in Central Appalachia affected by the decline of coal. A $20 million proposal from the Department of Labor would direct funding to states to help workers who lost their coal mining jobs by training them for other professions. Another proposal is a $25 million grant to assist coal communities in starting economic development plans.

To offset the new spending, the president’s budget asks for authority to increase fees on coal. The budget outline brings the fees back to 1997 levels. The bituminous surface coal federal fee rate would increase from 28 cents per ton to 35 cents per ton. Underground coal would increase from 12 cents a ton to 15 cents a ton.

Coal is not the only hard rock that would see an increase in fees, the budget outlines. The Obama administration proposes levying fees on uranium and metallic mines both on private and public lands. The increased fees, OSMRE estimates, would raise $1.8 billion over the next 10 years.

The $1 billion proposal must be approved by the Republican-controlled Congress…

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