Watchdog hits mine overseer on coal cleanups

Watchdog hits mine overseer on coal cleanups

The federal government isn’t fulfilling its obligations in overseeing how abandoned coal mine cleanup funds are being spent by states, a new report found.

The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General said the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) is giving states too much leeway in how they spend reclamation money.

The money at issue, from the Abandoned Mine Lands fund, is meant to pay primarily to clean up and reduce hazards at old coal mines.

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After states clean up all of the old coal mines they know about, they can use the money for other purposes, subject to restrictions.

But the inspector general’s Monday report found that states certified to use funds for other costs “did not give coal-related reclamation projects top priority over non-coal, and some states did not complete any reclamation projects.”

The OSMRE did not enforce states’ promises to direct money to coal-related costs when they arise, auditors said.

States like Wyoming, Montana and Texas are spending significant funds on non-coal projects while they have coal projects that are unfunded, the report said.

Mississippi and Louisiana, meanwhile, have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars from the program but made no progress on actual reclamations.

The inspector general’s office gave OSMRE a list of recommendations, including taking measures to better ensure that funds are properly spent.

The agency agreed with the 11 recommendations and said it would implement them by 2020.