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Posing risks to people and the environment, abandoned mines can contaminate groundwater, emit toxic waste, and cause injury when unsteady infrastructures collapse. To address these challenges, the federal government passed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA).

The new law required companies to reclaim abandoned mining sites, but it only applied to mining operations that closed after 1977, not to the thousands of mine lands abandoned prior to the law’s passage. To help finance the reclamation of these abandoned mines, SMCRA created the AML Fund, financed by a fee on each ton of coal mined.

Today, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) distributes these funds to states and tribes for use in reclamation projects.


Unfortunately, current AML funding is not sufficient to meet the vast inventory of abandoned mine lands across the country. And, with the AML Fund dependent on fees from current coal mining, the rapid decline of coal production throughout the country is undermining the long-term stability of the fund.

In recent years, Congress has passed short-term fixes to this program, but more sustainable investments—such as those in the pending RECLAIM Act—are needed to match the scale of the problem. Without Congressional action, the current fee level is set to expire in September 2021, triggering even lower funding levels.

Just Transition Fund’s Take

Reclaiming abandoned mine lands is important for mitigating the harm to human and environmental health. Additionally, cleaning up these lands can create economic opportunity by turning the sites into economic development assets, such as business parks, recreation areas, or wind and solar farms, and creating thousands of new jobs in coal communities across the United States.

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