We interrupt our normal programing about Washington’s regulatory follies to bring you this message about an obscure federal program that was the long-overdue subject of a U.S. House of Representatives oversight hearing last month.

This would be the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund, paid for by the coal industry and administered by the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement (OSM). The House subcommittee on energy and minerals heard how this ramshackle, multibillion-dollar program has become equally inefficient and ineffective. Billions from the fund can’t be accounted for, with the only certainty that most of the money hasn’t been spent on abandoned coal mine cleanup, the intended purpose.

Here’s the plot to date. Since 1977, the AML fund has collected some $11 billion from fees, with interest, on each ton of mined coal to clean up abandoned coal mines prioritized for this purpose. Of this total, about $8.5 billion as of last fall has been spent — but not on abandoned coal mines. In fact, just $2.8 billion has been spent on high and low priority sites, according to OSM’s records.

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