Economic development in Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District is a priority for me as a congressman.
The votes we take in the House often have a general impact on the economy. When I consider how to vote on taxes or regulations, for example, I prioritize their impacts on Ninth District businesses, but they are usually set at the national level.
However, one program I was able to bring to Southwest Virginia during my time in the United States House of Representatives uniquely addresses the challenges faced by areas of our region that previously mined coal.
The Abandoned Mining Lands Economic Revitalization (AMLER) Program, formerly known as the AML Pilot Program, is a federal program that provides funding for the reclamation and repurposing of former 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 managed to expand it to Virginia as well as Ohio and Alabama, two other states with significant mining heritage.
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Since fiscal 2017, Virginia has received $10 million per year 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 invited to apply for funding. Applicants must indicate how they would qualify for a grant, how they would spend it, and how their project would meet the needs of our region.
The projects that have been funded by AMLER since its arrival in Southwest Virginia have varied in size and purpose, but all have fostered economic growth and opportunity for our residents.
The Reclaim Project in Russell County is showing a way. This grant recipient is a 160-acre industrial site with access to railroads, electricity, water and natural gas. AMLER supported the removal of old structures from past coal mine operations as well as the removal of a coal fines pond, which posed a hazard to the environment. These actions paved the way for possible future developments. The progress of the Reclaim project can bring new employers to settle in the area and stimulate the local economy.
Similarly, Project Intersection in Norton received AMLER money to remove a high mining wall where two major highways meet in an effort to prepare a 200-acre site for industrial development. The Intersection Project will produce a major asset not only for the Town of Norton, but also for the counties of Lee, Wise and Scott.
As we seek to redevelop sites that once provided energy resources, some AMLER projects are fitting to support the development of new energy. The Junction project 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 one day fuel our future. Southwest Virginia’s significant association with energy looks set to continue for years to come.
One of the first Commonwealth projects to receive funding was recently completed, and I appreciated the chance to visit earlier this year and see the difference AMLER funding has made. The Pocahontas Show Mine in Tazewell County is a unique tourist location showcasing our region’s heritage. AMLER funding added functionality to the site and helped make it more accessible to visitors, increasing its appeal and broadening its economic impact. In fact, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and former Governor George Allen were recent visitors.
The Pocahontas Show Mine is another way to use AMLER funding. 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 Bath in Scott County, where improved trails and parking, and ecotourism in the nature wonderland in Buchanan County , where improved mining land allows the reintroduction of elk and other game species for viewing and hunting. .
AMLER is already producing results in our region, and more money is planned for projects. You can learn more about the program and what it does at energy.virginia.gov. Creative ideas that build on Southwest Virginia’s mining heritage to create new economic opportunities are welcome.
I am proud of what the AMLER program has achieved so far and excited about its possibilities for the future. Working with state, local authorities, and the private and not-for-profit sectors, we invest in innovation, renewal, and opportunity.
If you have any questions, concerns or comments, please do not hesitate to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405, my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671 or my Washington office at 202-225-3861. To reach my office by email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest documents from my office, including information on votes recently held in the House of Representatives.