Below are answers to many questions the state AML programs receive daily. This information was prepared by the Interstate Mining Compact Commission (IMCC) and the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs (NAAMLP). You can also download the full FAQ report with additional information by clicking here.

Basic information regarding AML and the AML program

What is an Abandoned Mine Land (AML) site?

AML sites are lands that contain AML hazards (landslides, mine openings, etc.) where the land containing the AML problems was mined for coal prior to August 3, 1977 and left inadequately reclaimed. The AML Program is tasked with the responsibility of abating hazards (i.e. fixing AML problems) on lands affected by AML-eligible coal mining.

What is the AML Program? How was it created, and what is its purpose?

The AML Program is a federally funded service that enables 28 States and Indian Tribes to abate AML hazards on lands mined for coal prior to August 3, 1977 (including certain exceptions). Congress created the AML Program in 1977 via the enactment of Title IV of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). The AML Program was designed to equip states and tribes with the resources and authority they need to contend with the massive and pervasive challenge left behind by unregulated, pre-SMCRA coal mining.

Why should anyone be concerned about AML sites?

The public should be concerned about AML sites because AML sites exist in most regions of the country and they are a significant detriment to public health, safety, the environment, and economic wellbeing in the communities they impact.

What is the relationship between modern mines and abandoned mines?

Modern mines are governed under Title V of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). SMCRA established rules and regulations under which modern mining must be conducted, including requirements for reclamation and restoration of mines once mining has ceased. Abandoned mines are governed under Title IV of SMCRA, which established the AML reclamation fee paid by the modern mining industry on current coal production. This reclamation fee is the primary source of revenue to address the lingering impacts of pre-SMRCA unregulated coal mining. Thus, the AML Program established under Title IV of SMCRA is a vital component of the balance between natural resource production and public health, safety, and environmental protection and restoration that Congress sought to establish through Title V of SMCRA.

Can AML funds be used to reclaim modern mines?

AML grant funds provided through the AML Program are typically only eligible to be used on problems associated with abandoned coal mines (i.e. lands and waters affected by coal mining that occurred prior to August 3, 1977).

The Operation of the AML Program - Information on how the AML program works

How does the AML program operate?

The SMCRA AML Program operates through a cooperative federalism approach. States and Indian Tribes impacted by AML may apply for a delegated state or tribal AML reclamation program, which is approved by and subject to oversight from the U.S. Department of the Interior through the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE). Upon approval of their reclamation plans, states and tribes exercise primary responsibility for identification, monitoring, and reclamation of AML sites within their respective borders.

How is the AML program funded?

The AML Program’s work is made possible by the AML fee levied on coal currently produced in the United States. Current fees are 28¢ per ton for surface mined coal, 12¢ per ton for underground mined coal, and 8¢ per ton for mined lignite.

What is the AML Trust Fund?

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) collects and deposits the proceeds of AML fee collection into the AML Trust Fund. AML moneys are retained in the Trust Fund until distributed in accordance with the specific provisions of SMCRA.

How are funds allocated among the AML programs?

AML funding is allocated based on formulas established in SMCRA. The amount states and tribes receive each year in annual payments varies depending on the fees collected during the previous fiscal year.

What is an uncertified AML program?

The state and tribal AML Programs receive annual grants from OSMRE to plan and construct AML projects until all high priority coal AML areas have been reclaimed.

What is certification or a certified program?

An AML program becomes “certified” when it has reclaimed all its known high priority coal AML areas.

Does certification mean these programs don’t need additional funding?

No. Certified programs continue to need funding to support AML reclamation. Over time, previously undetected abandoned mines are discovered, aging underground mines collapse creating subsidence problems, and populations expand into more rural areas with past mining issues raising the priority of need for reclamation.

What is a minimum program?

SMCRA Title IV designates any uncertified state program for which the annual AML grant distribution formula results in less than a $3 million grant as a “minimum program”.

Do minimum program states still need funding? Are they getting enough?

Additional funding provided to minimum program states is helpful to encouraging progress, but the $3 million mandatory distribution is still markedly deficient as compared to the massive AML inventories and costs remaining in many of these minimum program states.

The AML Inventory and Progress with Reclamation - Information on how the AML program keeps track of reclamation work and on the progress that has been made with reclamation so far

What is the AML inventory (e-AMLIS)?

The Abandoned Mine Land Inventory System (e-AMLIS) is an ongoing inventory of identified unreclaimed and completed AML sites categorized based on type and priority (as defined in SMCRA). The inventory includes estimates for unreclaimed problems of the construction costs necessary to reclaim each hazard or impact and actual construction costs for the AML problems that have already been reclaimed.

Does the AML inventory (e-AMLIS) reflect costs for all AML work being accomplished and all uses of AML funding?

e-AMLIS was created primarily to aid OSMRE and the states and tribes in tracking reclamation construction costs of coal mining related AML accomplishments, especially the reclamation of high-priority health and safety hazards.

Why does the number of AML features documented in the AML inventory (e-AMLIS) and the total cost listed to reclaim those features continue to grow?

The AML inventory (e-AMLIS) and associated cost estimate to address all of the known AML sites has continued to grow due to previously unknown AML features and hazards being discovered and also due to a change in priority (increased health and safety hazard) of previously known lower priority AML sites.

Does the AML inventory (e-AMLIS) need to be updated?

The answer to this question depends on the purpose one has in mind for the AML inventory. The original and primary purpose of the AML Inventory is tracking the number, location, size, relative danger level, and rough reclamation costs of the AML sites identified as well as the details (construction cost, units reclaimed, date reclaimed, etc.) for completed AML reclamation projects – and it generally serves this purpose well. To the extent that the inventory is being used to identify and track remaining AML sites, it is therefore not in need of significant update. Because tracking AML site locations and reclamation progress is the inventory’s primary purpose, cost estimates are not routinely updated and many are significantly out of date. To the extent that the AML inventory would be used to understand the overall remaining costs of unfunded AML work, a significant update effort would therefore have to be undertaken to achieve a high degree of accuracy.

How is eligibility and priority for AML site reclamation determined?

The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) defines lands and waters that are eligible for reclamation as: “Lands and waters which were mined for coal or which were affected by such mining, wastebanks, coal processing, or other coal mining processes and abandoned or left in an inadequate reclamation status prior to Aug. 3, 1977, and for which there is no continuing reclamation responsibility under state or federal laws.” SMCRA defines three priorities and establishes that expenditures of moneys from the fund shall reflect the following priorities in the order stated: Priority 1 (P1) - the protection of public health, safety and property from extreme danger of adverse effects of coal mining practices; Priority 2 (P2) - the protection of public health and safety from adverse effects of coal mining practices; and, Priority 3 (P3) - the restoration of land and water resources and the environment previously degraded by adverse effects of coal mining practices including measures for the conservation and development of soil, water (excluding channelization), woodland, fish and wildlife, recreation resources and agricultural productivity.

What is the process for completing an AML project?

The first step in completing an AML project is identifying and gathering information on the prospective site. The State/Tribe then determines the eligibility of the abandoned mine for AML funds, which requires that the site must have been abandoned prior to August 3, 1977 (except for a few limited circumstances outlined in SMCRA) and have no ongoing reclamation responsibilities by any viable, extant party. The State/Tribe is required to perform a site inventory to account for the size, scope, and estimated construction costs of a given project, then enter that preliminary information into e-AMLIS. Once a project has been identified, implementation of that project requires compliance with requirements 16 under SMCRA as well as a cadre of other environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and the Endangered Species Act. OSMRE reviews the State’s/Tribe’s compliance measures and, when the requirements are satisfied, issues an Authorization to Proceed (ATP) for each project. Meanwhile, the State/Tribe must also investigate options and develop project plans including conducting sampling, designing and engineering the project itself, and submitting these plans for additional review including obtaining all necessary permits. Then, the State/Tribe must generally procure a construction contractor to complete the project, which often requires a contract bidding process. Once the contractor is selected and work moves forward, the State/Tribe must oversee progress with the project. Once the project has been completed, the State/Tribe will update the AML inventory to reflect the final project construction cost and update their grant report information for OSMRE. The States and Tribes then monitor the success of the projects and perform any necessary maintenance.

How is progress with AML work tracked and reported?

OSMRE tracks and reports progress on AML Fund expenditures through grants to the States and Tribes using the Financial and Business Management System (FBMS). OSMRE also uses the AML Inventory, e- AMLIS, to track and report progress on AML reclamation work in terms of the construction cost of reclamation work that has been completed and reclamation cost estimates of work that remains to be done.

What are undelivered orders?

“Undelivered orders” is a term used by OSMRE that refers to funding that has been allocated and distributed to state and tribal AML grants but has not yet been accessed and “drawn down” (withdrawn) from the U.S. Treasury by the State/Tribe. The term does not account for budgetary or contractual commitments at the State/Tribal level, or grant guidelines that require grant funds be drawn down over time as expenses are incurred.

How do AML programs ensure AML funding is used efficiently and as intended by SMCRA?

There are a variety of mechanisms in place to ensure that AML funding is used in the ways intended for by SMCRA and with optimal benefit. First, prior to receiving any AML funding, a State/Tribe has to prepare a Reclamation Plan and receive plan approval from OSMRE. Second, the States/Tribes must comply with SMCRA and follow the eligibility and priority ranking criteria established by Congress in the Act. The States/Tribes must also prepare an annual AML grant application that identifies in broad terms how the AML grant funding will be used. These 18 AML grant are submitted to OSMRE for review and approval prior to any funding be utilized. Finally, OSMRE maintains a strong oversight role that includes approving AML problems and their priority ranking when they are entered in the AML inventory; reviewing project documentation and issuing Authorizations to Proceed (ATP) before States/Tribes can initiate reclamation or related construction; and routinely inspecting and reviewing AML project sites in the field before, during and after construction to ensure successful reclamation and compliance with all AML Program requirements.

How do the AML programs allocate their funding? How much do the AML programs spend on administration of the program?

The state and tribal AML Programs strive for efficiency in the use of their limited AML grant funding. The state and tribal AML Programs submit detailed information to OSMRE through their grant applications and annual performance reports on how AML grants have been, or will be, spent on the complete range of grant activities. OSMRE tracks this information in the Financial and Business Management System (FBMS). A recent review of FBMS information for AML Grants between 2008 and 2017 found that the States and Tribes have allocated 91.1% of the funding to plan, design, construct, and inspect the various types of projects authorized under SMCRA and 8.1% was allocated for administrative costs.

Is there un-used money in the federal AML Trust Fund?

Yes, as of September 2018 there was a balance of approximately $2.4 billion in the federal AML Trust fund. This is often referred to as the “unappropriated balance.” As a general note, it is important to keep in mind that all of the money in the unappropriated balance is already serving and/or is planned for a certain purpose.

How does sequestration effect AML grant funding?

AML grant funding has been subject to sequestration pursuant to the Balanced Budget Control Act since 2013. Since then, a percentage of funding has been withheld from grants to states and tribes. As of FY 2018, $118.6 million of AML funding has been sequestered.

Is there enough money left in the AML Trust Fund to cover reclamation needs going forward?

No. The funding remaining in the AML Trust fund is not adequate to complete all of the total remaining reclamation needs. Although some moneys are retained in the AML Trust Fund for the purpose of distribution after the last regular AML grant distribution in FY 2022, those remaining funds will only allow reclamation of a fraction of the remaining inventory.

Types of AML Work - Information on the types of work engaged in by the AML program

What types of work do AML Programs do?

The AML programs are engaged in a variety of types of work to restore and protect against the adverse impacts of AML sites. The most common type of AML projects seek to protect public health and safety, for example by sealing open mine shafts, repairing subsidence damage from collapsed underground mines, and extinguishing coal refuse fires. While making progress with health and safety impacts, the AML programs have also steadily worked to remediate the environmental impacts of AML sites, for example treating water impacted by acid mine drainage (AMD) pollution.

Is the AML Program only focused on safety?

No, the AML program is not only focused on safety. While the AML programs are directed by law to prioritize safety-oriented projects, they are also required to give attention to environmental impacts such as polluted water.

How does the AML Program benefit health and safety?

The AML programs reduce the number of people injured or killed as a result of AML hazards and contribute to restoring impacted communities sense of security. Based on e-AMLIS data as of 2017, more than 7.2 million people nationwide have been protected from abandoned mine hazards. 875,000 acres of high priority abandoned coal mine sites have been reclaimed, more than 46,000 dangerous mine shafts and portals have been eliminated, and reclamation of over 29,000 acres of dangerous piles and embankments have been completed.

How does the AML Program benefit the environment?

AML sites are the cause of many types of environmental impairment, including surface and groundwater contamination, erosion, sedimentation, inadequate vegetation, and most prominently, the pollution of rivers and streams as a result of acid mine drainage (AMD). AMD is the result of water-filled underground mines that drain toxic mineral- and metal-laden water into surrounding watersheds, resulting in the inability of these waters to support biological life or the drinking water needs of nearby communities.

What is Acid Mine Drainage (AMD)?

Many abandoned underground mines discharge groundwater flow that comes into contact with coal and other materials permeated with minerals that are easily dissolved in the water. This results in the formation of highly acidic water that runs out of the mine. AMD can also result from surface runoff from historic coal refuse and spoil piles. In these instances, nearby water resources are often polluted to the point that they no longer support life and are unsuitable for human recreation. The streams can also be rendered useless for drinking water supplies and industrial uses due to severe degradation from AMD.

What are water supply replacement projects?

The states and tribes often utilize Title IV SMCRA funding to provide access to water for communities and households that have lost or had their water sources polluted due to pre-SMCRA mining operations, for example where an underground mine void collapses and empties nearby streams, or where nearby ground water resources are laden with toxic heavy metals.

How does the AML Program benefit the economy?

The SMCRA AML Program plays a vital role in the effort to restore economic wellbeing in AML impacted communities by eliminating or reducing the drag on economic development caused by the AML hazards. Economic benefits accrue from much of the AML programs’ work, including responding to the constant threats to infrastructure stability represented by subsidence events and landslides, and providing access to clean water and restoring opportunities for tourism and recreation. The AML programs’ work also results in thousands of direct as well as indirect jobs. Consistently conducted AML projects spur additional economic activity in turn, providing support for other industries.

What are AML emergencies?

AML emergency projects are one of the AML programs’ most important functions. These suddenly-occurring problems pose an extreme danger to our citizens’ health, safety and general welfare and may involve mine subsidence that damages homes, roads, utilities, or other improved property; burning coal refuse or underground mine fires; mine shafts and portals which have become accessible to the public; mine gas migration into homes; mine water blow outs and other mine drainage problems; or AML-related landslides. The state and tribal AML Programs stand ready to respond to public complaints that require immediate action to protect public health and safety or restore the environment from the effects of past coal mining. Communities located among prevalent abandoned mines live in constant worry of this type of sudden, devastating event – and the AML Program helps to bring to these communities the security and peace of mind they deserve.

Can projects be funded that are not on the inventory?

Generally speaking, no. AML projects must be on the AML inventory to be eligible for funding. However, an exception is provided in the case of emergency projects.

Can AML funding be used for non-coal reclamation?

Generally speaking, non-coal AML sites are not eligible for SMCRA Title IV AML funding. However, there are certain rare cases in which non-coal AML work can be pursued.

Reauthorization and the Future of the AML Program

What is “reauthorization”?

The AML fee, on which both the federal and state/tribal AML Programs rely for the vast majority of funding, is set to expire in 2021. Without this source of funding, the states and tribes will be unable to continue operating their AML programs for long. In order for collection of the AML fee to continue, it must be “reauthorized” by Congress.

Why is consideration of reauthorization important?

Consideration of reauthorization of the AML fee is important because the decision made by Congress regarding reauthorization will determine whether the AML Program’s mission of restoring and protecting against the impacts of AML sites will be completed. While the AML programs have made great progress with reclamation, the remaining need for AML work far outweighs the resources available for that purpose.

How long will it take reclamation to be completed?

There are a variety of factors that make it difficult to predict how long it will take for all sites listed on the AML inventory to be completed. Acknowledging the difficulties discussed below in predicting a time frame for the end of reclamation needs, and that the rate of reclamation ultimately depends on the rate of AML funding that is provided, IMCC and NAAMLP recommend an extension of 15 years, which is readily supportable based on the $10.4 billion in AML costs currently in the AML inventory.

What will be lost if the AML program is not reauthorized?

Without reauthorization of the AML fee, a very significant amount of AML work is likely to remain unaddressed. Dangerous mine hazards will persist and unforeseen AML emergencies will continue to occur, risking property damage, injury, and death for local citizens. The deep environmental impacts on the lands and watersheds so loved by citizens of and visitors to historic coal country will go unrepaired. Mine drainage treatment systems serving to restore the quality of water resources in mine drainage impacted watersheds will go defunct without funding for operation and maintenance. In many cases, the advances already made in restoration would be lost. Constantly felt safety, health, and environmental impacts will continue to contribute to economic struggle, preventing historic coal communities from fully taking part in the American economic prosperity that historic coal mining in their regions helped to bring about. In all of these regards, the AML Program’s contribution is necessary for the fundamental stability that AML-impacted communities need to thrive. If the AML fee is not reauthorized, consideration must be given to how these communities will contend with the more than $10 billion in unfunded public liability and the immense health, environmental, and economic impacts represented by remaining coal AML sites

How have reclamation techniques changed over time?

The AML Programs have continuously sought to improve the way that reclamation is conducted, and many advancements in reclamation techniques have occurred since the beginning of SMCRA in 1977. These include new techniques for earthwork and re-vegetation that have led to cost efficiencies and greater reclamation success. AML Programs routinely share new experiences with other programs and in so doing have improved the effectiveness for all programs.

How has the AML program changed over time?

The AML Program’s core mission remains unchanged from the beginning – the protection and restoration of lands and waters impacted by AML and the protection of nearby citizens’ health and safety - but as understanding of AML sites and their impacts has evolved, so has understanding of the role the AML Programs must play to succeed in that mission.

What is the status of reauthorization efforts?

Given the expiration of AML fee collection authority in September of 2021 and the likely competing legislative and political priorities over the next three years, we anticipate that significant work on reauthorization of fee collection authority would be undertaken during the 116th Congress, including introduction of legislation and relevant oversight hearings