If Pennsylvania has a patron saint when it comes to abandoned mine reclamation, it would be John Dawes, the executive director of the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds.
The foundation specializes in facilitating grants to environmental and watershed associations statewide. This seed money allows groups to leverage it for additional funding from state and federal agencies.
John is clearly passionate about the issue of abandoned mine reclamation and, in 2006, he led the effort for the reauthorization of the federal Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Fund. Since that time, the fund has contributed significant monies to Pennsylvania for historic mine reclamation. These monies come in the form of a coal tonnage fee, currently 32 cents per ton.
It is the championing of this effort that prompted the Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining to today bestow its 2014 ECHO Award on John Dawes. In this case, “ECHO” stands for “Environment, Community, Humanity and Ownership,” and John lives and breathes those concepts, possessing a deep understanding of land and water issues in Pennsylvania and bringing together coalitions that effect positive change on the landscape.
It was the Pennsylvania delegation that led the charge for the reauthorization of the AML Fund almost a decade ago, a campaign which John was honored to chair. PennFuture was equally honored to work alongside John to help make this happen.
Prior to the reauthorization of the law, monies to states for mine reclamation was handled via appropriations committee. It is now mandatory spending. Last year, Pennsylvania received $59 million from the federal government for its mine reclamation efforts.
In addition to helping to restore landscapes, streams, and communities, reclamation efforts provide jobs, whether it's land grading, reforestation or installing storm water controls.
John Dawes is one of the most committed environmentalists and conservationists I know, and his consistent pursuit of remediation for the environmental impacts of our coal mining legacy has resulted in improvement for hundreds of miles of streams and rivers in Pennsylvania.
If our abandoned mines could talk, they would be thanking John for making them whole again. PennFuture can't thank him enough for his good work on behalf of our land and water in Pennsylvania.(Written by: Cindy Dunn, President and CEO of PennFuture.)