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Montana getting millions in federal funding to clean up abandoned coal mines

An open-pit coal mine photographed from above
Dan Cohn

The federal government is awarding Montana millions of dollars to clean up mine land developed and abandoned before 1977, when regulations were put in place to require cleanup.

The Department of Environmental Quality announced Monday that the state will receive about $4.6 million dollars annually for the next 15 years to clean up thousands of abandoned mines scattered across Montana. The funding is part of the infrastructure package Congress passed last year.

The DEQ says the money will help the state address coal seam fires, a major fire hazard at abandoned mine sites that can burn underground for years. Last year a coal seam sparked the Richard Spring fire that spread over 267 square miles in southeast Montana.

DEQ says the state receives more than $3 million dollars yearly from federal fees on Montana coal production to clean up abandoned mines, but would need an estimated $134 million to address all of Montana’s sites.

Once a former mine site is cleaned up, the land can be returned to other uses, including grazing and recreation.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.