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Tens of millions in federal dollars coming to Wyoming for abandoned mine reclamation 

An old mine in a sage brush area that has flattened spots and a road going through.
Rita Donham
Wyoming Abandoned Mine Land Division
An abandoned mine reclamation project in Sweetwater County.

Wyoming has received a couple of rounds of federal funds recently, amounting to about $35 million, to help with restoring land used for old coal mines.

The money is part of federal efforts to bring back life in dying coal communities and also to help with ongoing pollution and environmental impacts from closed up mines. That’s because before 1977, there weren’t federal laws requiring cleanup and land restoration when companies were done mining – those are called ‘abandoned mines,’ which are scattered across the country, including thousands in Wyoming.

The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), passed in 1977, regulates active mining for environmental impacts and requires cleanup of the abandoned mines. Earlier this year, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) awarded Wyoming with $9.7 million to go toward reclamation projects.

“We still have issues with the mines subsiding or collapsing around Rock Springs and we also have that in many other communities in Wyoming – Hannah, Glenrock, Sheridan and Kemmerer,” said Don Newton, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s Abandoned Mine Land administrator. “I mean, anywhere there was historic underground coal mining, we have issues with subsidence.”

Newton said that round of funding will go toward filling in an old mine near Rock Springs that goes under I-80.

“We're essentially filling in a portion of the mine that is underneath the interstate,” he said. “And that is to protect the surface from collapsing into the mine.”

Newton said the state typically hires Wyoming-based construction companies to do the work.

“They have to hire local workers to do these projects,” he said. “Consequently, we pump a lot of money into the economy where we're doing these projects.”

And that’s a goal with these federal funds – to help revitalize coal communities. He said the project will likely be completed this year. However, he added that when it comes to abandoned mine reclamation, the work is never finished.

“Subsidence from coal mining will go on forever,” Newton said, adding that some of these mines are over a 100 years old. “The subsurface collapse that causes the pits on top of the ground will continue, most likely forever. We'll be addressing them in perpetuity.”

Just this week, Wyoming received another round of federal funds for more abandoned mine reclamation. OSMRE awarded states across the nation with $124.8 million, with about $25.2 million going to the Cowboy State.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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