Clinchco, Virginia – Cosam Mullins mined coal for most of his working life on the western hills of Virginia. Now that it’s hard to find a job in the mining industry, he’s clearing up the turmoil left by the industry.
The 68-year-old woman operates a bucket loader in a valley in the town of Clinchco, Virginia, scraping red rock waste dumped years ago by a failed coal miner.
As locals say, cleaning a large “gob pile” for $ 17.50 an hour before overtime is less than what you’ve earned in decades as a miner. But that’s salary.
“I don’t know what to do if this job is gone,” Malins said.
Appalachian, the center of the U.S. coal mining industry, could face a surge in jobs like Malins if President Joe Biden succeeds in ambitions to move the U.S. to a cleaner energy economy to combat climate change. There is sex.
As part of that effort, the Biden administration wants to spend about $ 16 billion to begin cleaning isolated oil and gas wells and abandoned mine sites. Many of these have leached toxins into the soil and released greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. .. There are up to millions of abandoned wells and tens of thousands of mining sites.
Included in the $ 1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package being discussed in Congress, this proposal could help transform areas that have been environmentally and economically damaged by the drilling and mining boom and bust cycle. There is sex.
Purification operations will not last forever, but fossil fuel-producing regions such as Appalachia and parts of the west will buy valuable time to diversify their economies into new ones, the government says.
The White House sees the proposal as strengthening a more comprehensive program for investing in the energy community, including the provision of critical infrastructure such as broadband internet, which is also included in the bipartisan bill. increase.
Last week, the US Department of Commerce announced an additional $ 300 million for the devastated coal, oil, gas, and power plant communities. It is intended to be used for revitalizing new industries, expanding existing industries, infrastructure development and workforce training.
“I’m glad someone recognized the problem,” said Malins, his 20-year-old son Troy, and the regional director of Savage Services, a private company that employs about 30 other workers in Clinchico. One Lee booth said.
Scott Freshwater, 62, owner of ConServ Inc in West Virginia, said Biden’s plans would help his business. More than one-third of his 80 employees block leaky wells, and the rest are working on projects such as compressor station and pipeline maintenance.
“This federal funding will accelerate this job,” he said.
However, some say that cleanup work alone may be too little, too temporary, and too little payment to make a big impact.
“The only way to completely replace endangered work is to have a major manufacturing center in a coalfield area that employs hundreds at a time for decades instead of dozens at a time for four to five years. It’s about establishing, “said spokesman Phil Smith. United Mine Workers of America on behalf of coal workers in the United States.
Critics say funding may correspond to taxpayer bailouts for industries that should have been forced to wipe out their own turmoil.
West Virginia-based environmental consulting firm Downstream Strategies reports that the government’s proposed funding for coal purification will create about 2,700 new jobs in West Virginia, Ohio, and Virginia. That is.
Waste piles are common at former mining sites throughout Appalachia and are smoldering from place to place due to the inclusion of trace amounts of flammable coal.
They are also structurally dangerous. The Clinchico mountain is up to 12 meters thick and is at risk of collapsing like any other feature of an abandoned mine. Last year, in Dante, a few miles away, heavy rains struck the entrance to an abandoned coal mine, causing two landslides and temporarily evacuating 16 homes.
“It’s detrimental to economic development,” said Erin Savage, senior program manager at Appalachian Voices, a non-profit advocate for mine regeneration.
“Why do you want to go where you have to worry that certain mine features can hurt your investment and build a new business?”
Many of the companies that ran mines have long gone — bankruptcy due to the ups and downs of the infamous volatile industry, forcing the federal government to pay a lot of cleaning costs.
Biden’s infrastructure bill was established before 1977 to deal with the cleanup of abandoned mines, but is struggling to keep up with costs in a federal program of underfunding called abandoned mine land (AML). Inject about $ 11.3 billion.
The bill also has something to do with the industry. It could reduce coal production fees that mining companies have to pay to secure funds for cleanup, but critics say it increases pressure to bankrupt the company.
Republicans, including Senator Joe Manchin of the Democratic Party of West Virginia and Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the top coal producer, cut open pit mining fees by almost one-third from 2012 levels. I’m proposing to do it.
The senator did not respond to a request for comment on the rate cut.
Some affected communities are already feeling the impact of cleanup.
Daniel Kestner, Virginia Mining and Mineral Energy Department’s Regeneration Program Manager, said the Appalachian landfill coalfield has attracted tourists in recent years, including riders on all-terrain vehicles attacking the Elk population reintroduced into the hills. He said he was starting.
But the new influx of federal funds requires ambitious goals, including economic diversification, Kästner said.
“It must be flexible enough to be used not only for landfills, but also for applications such as battery storage and solar power plants, and when there are wind power options.” He said. He said the money could also be spent on agricultural projects and parks.
What matters to Malins and his son Troy is the work itself.
“I hope we have enough work to do this in our lives,” said Troy Mullins.
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