Lawmakers Tap into Federal Spending

Lawmakers had coal on their minds during the interim meetings. Not only did they form work groups to tackle the revitalization of struggling coal communities, they also agreed to establish a Joint Committee on Mine Reclamation.

While one might wonder how it is possible such a thing did not already exist, in a state like West Virginia, it should be pointed out the mission of this group is to establish a plan to access federal stimulus money for mine reclamation.

In other words, it exists now because lawmakers think they can get someone else to pay for the work. At the same time, the pressure is mounting. In May, the Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement over what the group called its failure to require needed improvements and stronger requirements for West Virginia’s federally approved surface mining program to ensure coal companies fully fund reclamation bonds.

In a news release at the time, the Sierra Club called the Mountain State’s existing bond pool “insufficient for insuring the full costs of reclamation amid the rapid, nationwide decline of the coal industry.”

Mine reclamation could be a budget killer, if lawmakers don’t do something. They can hardly be blamed for deciding if the feds are handing out unheard of sums of money, West Virginia should be looking for a way to funnel some of it toward heading off an impending crisis.

According to state Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, there might be as much as $38 billion in existing federal funds that could be tapped. The new joint committee must figure out how to “repackage” those funds in a manner that appeases federal nitpickers and brings the money West Virginia needs. Give them credit for spotting an opportunity and working to seize it. Here’s hoping they are successful.


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