Count us among those who support tapping the $2.5 billion that's sitting in a federal fund to clean up coal industry messes to help clean up the economic mess the industry is leaving behind.
The idea of making better use of the Abandoned Mine Lands fund to help put people to work in Appalachia was advanced last month in the Daily Yonder by Tarence Ray and Willie Davis. (Dailyyonder.com/abandoned-mine-money-could-fuel-recovery/2013/08/12/6686.)
The $2.5 billion comes from a tax the industry has paid since 1977 to stabilize and restore land and water damaged by mining. The fund also helps pay pensions of some miners who retired from now-defunct companies.
Kentucky has documented more than $300 million in damage eligible for funding, yet Congress dribbles out the money in amounts too small to come close to meeting the need.
In fact, the main purpose to which the fund has been put is making the deficit look smaller on paper.
Meanwhile, states such as Wyoming that no longer need to repair abandoned mine lands keep getting a share of the AML fund, which they use for such things as building sports stadiums.
As the coal industry abandons Central Appalachia because mining there has become unprofitable, it makes sense to help restore the economy with the money the industry has paid through the years.
Fixing the damage from past mining could quickly put idled miners and their equipment back to work.
Also, University of Kentucky scientists have developed techniques for reforesting reclaimed mine lands that could create jobs today while laying the foundation for timber and tourism in the future.
Others will have ideas for restoring economic vitality to a region that has been bound to a single industry for too long.
Coal from Appalachia has powered U.S. growth and built great fortunes in distant cities for 100 years, while the people and places that produced the coal were rewarded with poverty and pain.
It's not asking too much to use money generated by the coal industry to build a new economy in the coalfields. In fact, this country owes it at least that much.