- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 14, 2015

PORUM, Okla. (AP) - A nearly 40-year-old program that seeks to eliminate safety hazards from Oklahoma’s abandoned coal mines is working to finish its slate of projects since a tax that finances the work is set to expire in 2021.

The federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 sought to reclaim coal mine land by establishing a trust fund generated from a tax on active coal mining. Oklahoma receives around $3 million in federal money each year, and there are abandoned sites in 16 counties, The Oklahoman (https://bit.ly/1f07RZX ) reported.

Although 2021 may seem far away, much is still left to be done in the state with projects like the 100-acre site in Muskogee County that’s estimated to cost more than $1 million to reclaim, said Robert Toole, who oversees the Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program.

Toole said that for the Muskogee County project, the abandoned mine land must first be surveyed for the presence of the American Burying Beetle, an endangered species. It’s a costly process that he said could set the project back months.

Mine sites usually don’t appear dangerous, and sometimes people can’t see them, which makes them a hazard. According to the reclamation program, 25 people have died at abandoned mine sites in Oklahoma since 1972.

The Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s goal is to protect endangered species, but it’s important the program finds a way to get work done economically, said commission spokesman Robert Hathorne.

“At the end of the day we’ve got insect and we have human lives,” Hathorne said. “How can we come to some happy medium that will meet the needs of these species?”


Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com

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