On the morning of November 20, 1968, the Farmington Consol No. 9 mine exploded and 78 brave coal miners lost their lives within hours.
It was a tragic day that my family and so many other families will never forget.
Like many other West Virginians, this disaster was personal to me. I lost my Uncle John and many of my classmates and friends. I will never forget the look on my mother’s face when she found out her younger brother had died in the blast.
You can’t tell America’s story without mentioning the enormous contributions that our miners and the people of West Virginia have always made and continue to make. For generations, West Virginians like my uncle have made enormous sacrifices to do the heavy lifting necessary to propel our nation to greatness.
They mined the coal that forged the steel that built the guns and ships that carried our nation to victory in two world wars. They fueled the Industrial Revolution and did more than their fair share to build the strongest and most successful economy ever. And they did everything knowing the risks they take every day.
Our land and our communities also bear the scars of these sacrifices. In fact, one in three West Virginians lives within a mile of an abandoned mine site, and there are at least 6,309 documented orphan wells scattered across our state.
These sites and wells pollute our lands, rivers, lakes and streams and endanger the health and safety of our people. The people of West Virginia deserve a long-term solution that revitalizes our lands and reinvests in our communities.
That’s why, when the time came to debate critical investments in our nation’s infrastructure, I fought tirelessly to ensure that West Virginia received the resources we need to meaningfully address these issues of long standing and protect our communities. After months of strong bipartisan negotiations, my Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has been signed into law, investing billions of dollars in West Virginia.
I have worked to ensure that more than $11 billion of historic funding from this bipartisan legislation is set aside to address the abandoned mining lands that plague coal communities across our country, including West Virginia’s 140,355 acres. First, by re-authorizing abandoned mining land reclamation fees for another 13 years, we have ensured the continued success of a program that has already reclaimed over 800,000 acres of damaged land and water. . Additionally, this legislation will provide more than $1 billion to West Virginia for projects that will clean up and reinvigorate abandoned mining lands, protecting the health and well-being of these communities and opening the door to new opportunities in outdoor spaces and residential areas.
This critical funding will be available for so many important projects. It can be used to finally shut down dangerous mineshafts so our children can safely explore the outdoor playground our state has been blessed with. Our friends and neighbors can use the funds to reclaim dangerous slopes near their homes, as was done recently to protect 10 homes in a neighborhood in Harrison County. And we can restore water supplies damaged by mining and acid mine drainage, because every West Virginia deserves to drink clean, safe water.
In the years to come, this investment will breathe new life into our hills and surrounding communities. Land restoration will not only create short-term, well-paying jobs, but also create long-term economic potential.
From solar farms to cutting-edge aquaponics centers like Blue Acre in Mingo County, the economic impact of these investments is limitless.
We are already seeing unprecedented funding flows in the Mountain State for these crucial projects.
Earlier this month, I announced more than $140 million from the U.S. Department of the Interior to reclaim abandoned mining lands in 2022. This investment is more than seven times the amount West Virginia has received l year under the traditional abandoned mining lands program. I also announced that our state is eligible for nearly $142 million to clean up and plug dangerous orphan oil and gas wells.
We have never seen these types of investments in West Virginia. These two announcements and the hundreds of millions of dollars to come in the months and years to come will make it possible to carry out exciting projects to diversify and strengthen our economy, create new jobs and clean up our communities while reviving our territory.
Going forward, we must work together to ensure that we invest these critical funds in the most efficient and effective way possible. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the West Virginia Congressional delegation, Governor Jim Justice, and local officials to ensure this investment in our state builds a better future for West Virginia families and communities. West Virginians are the hardest working people in America and we are ready to rebuild and thrive right here at home.
Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and also serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.