CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- President Obama is, for the fifth time, asking Congress to stop diverting money intended for cleaning up abandoned coal mines to states that have already reclaimed all of their old mine sites.
The Obama proposal is again included in the Interior Department's proposed budget for the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.
Under the proposal, OSM would save $32 million next budget year and about $327 million over the next decade by not distributing federal Abandoned Mine Lands funds to states that have previously "certified" that they cleaned up all coal sites that were abandoned prior to 1977.
Refocusing the AML program on cleaning up high-priority mine sites would primarily benefit West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, historic mining states with the largest numbers of abandoned coal operations.
"This proposal will ensure that the Nation's most dangerous abandoned coal mines are addressed before the AML fee expires in 2012," the administration said in budget documents.
In this year's budget proposal, the Obama administration also recommends that Congress return the per-ton tax on coal production that funds the AML program to the level they were prior to a cut in the reclamation fees included as part of a 2006 extension of the program.
OSM officials said that increasing the fees to their previous levels would provide an additional $53 million in 2014 that could be used to reduce the $3.9 billion in dangerous abandoned mines nationwide.
The AML changes are part of an OSM budget proposal that recommends a nearly 5 percent overall cut in OSM's budget, to about $143 million during the 2013-2014 budget year that starts Oct. 1.
Among other things, the proposal would slash by more than 15 percent OSM grants to state strip-mine regulatory agencies like the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
"States are encouraged to recover more of their regulatory costs from the coal industry through user fees," the administration said in OSM's budget proposal.