Economic development in Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District is a priority for me as its congressman.
The votes we take in the House often impact the economy broadly. When I consider how to vote on taxes or regulation, for example, I prioritize their impacts on Ninth District businesses, but they are usually being set at the national level.
One program I have been able to bring to Southwest Virginia during my time in the U.S. House of Representatives, however, uniquely addresses the challenges faced by the areas of our region that previously mined coal.
The Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) Program, previously known as the AML Pilot Program, is a federal program that provides funding for reclaiming and repurposing old mine sites for economic development purposes.
In its original form, the program applied to sites in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Through the legislative process in the House, I successfully expanded it to Virginia as well as to Ohio and Alabama, two other states with a significant coal mining legacy.
Since fiscal year 2017, Virginia has received $10 million annually in AMLER funding. In the Commonwealth, the program is administered by Virginia Energy, formerly known as the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy.
Each year, projects are welcome to apply for funding. Applicants must indicate how they would qualify for a grant, how they would spend it, and how their project would serve the needs of our region.
The projects that have been funded through AMLER since it came to Southwest Virginia have varied in their size and aim, but all have promoted economic growth and opportunity for our residents.
Project Reclaim in Russell County shows one way. This grant recipient is a 160-acre industrial site with access to rail lines, electricity, water, and natural gas. AMLER supported the removal of old structures from earlier coal mine-related operations as well as the removal of a coal fines pond, which was an environmental hazard. These actions made way for possible future development. Progress on Project Reclaim can lead to new employers locating in the region and boosting the local economy.
Similarly, Project Intersection in Norton received AMLER money to remove a mining highwall where two major highways meet in an effort to make a 200-acre site ready for industrial development. Project Intersection will produce a great asset not only for the City of Norton but the Counties of Lee, Wise, and Scott as well.
As we seek to redevelop sites that once provided energy resources, it is appropriate that some AMLER projects support new energy development. Project Junction in Wise County, which was recommended for funding this year, aims to bring innovative energy assets to the site. It could lead to groundbreaking work that will someday power our future. Southwest Virginia’s extensive association with energy looks to continue in the years to come.
One of the earliest projects in the Commonwealth to receive funding was recently completed, and I enjoyed the chance to visit earlier this year and see the difference made by AMLER funding. The Pocahontas Exhibition Mine in Tazewell County is a unique tourist location showcasing our area’s heritage. AMLER funding added features to the site and helped make it more accessible to visitors, increasing its draw and expanding its economic impact. In fact, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and former Governor George Allen recently numbered among its visitors.
The Pocahontas Exhibition Mine represents another way AMLER funding can be used. Bringing visitors to our region capitalizes on our heritage and natural beauty to support jobs and businesses. Other tourism and recreation projects receiving AMLER money include the Devil’s Bathtub in Scott County, where grants improved trails and parking, and Ecotourism in Nature’s Wonderland in Buchanan County, where improving mine land allows for the reintroduction of elk and other game species for viewing and hunting.
AMLER is already producing results in our region, and more money is slated for projects. You can learn more about the program and what it does at energy.virginia.gov. Creative ideas that draw on Southwest Virginia’s mining heritage to create new economic opportunities are welcome.
I am proud of what the AMLER Program has accomplished so far and excited about its possibilities for the future. Working with the state, local officials, and the private and nonprofit sectors, we are investing in innovation, renewal, and opportunity.