Monday, March 8, 2021

Chesapeake Bay Foundation Accepting Entries To Save The Bay Photo Contest

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation
2021 Save The Bay Photo Contest is now accepting entries from youth, amateur and professional photographers to highlight the beauty and character of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed's rivers and streams through the eyes of those who enjoy them.  

The deadline for entries is April 2.

Images depicting people, wildlife, recreation, and farms within the watershed will all be considered, however all photos must include a body of water within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, such as a pond, lake, river, stream, creek, or the Bay itself.

Click Here for all the details.

For more on Chesapeake Bay-related issues in Pennsylvania, visit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA webpage.  Click Here to sign up for Pennsylvania updates (bottom of left column).  Click Here to support their work.

Also visit the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership to learn how you can help clean water grow on trees.

CBF has over 275,000 members in Bay Watershed.

[PA Chesapeake Bay Plan

[For more information on Pennsylvania’s plan, visit DEP’s Chesapeake Bay Office webpage.

[How Clean Is Your Stream?

[DEP’s Interactive Report Viewer allows you to zoom in on your own stream or watershed to find out how clean your stream is or if it has impaired water quality using the latest information in the draft 2020 Water Quality Report.]

(Photo: 2013 Winner, Adams Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park, Luzerne, Sullivan, Columbia counties by Kevin Moore.)

Related Article:

-- Bay Journal: What Will It Take To Clean Up Abandoned Mine Land In Chesapeake Bay Watershed? - Part I 

[Posted: March 8, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

AG Shapiro: $5.3 Million Natural Gas Royalty Restitution From Chesapeake Energy For PA Property Owners

On March 8, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced a settlement agreement with Chesapeake Energy that provides for better payment of royalties for Pennsylvania landowners with Chesapeake leases going forward; improved protections for landowners through appointment of an Ombudsman to investigate individual claims, OAG compliance and inspection rights, and annual reporting; and $5.3 million in restitution for Pennsylvania landowners with Chesapeake leases.

“The bottom line here is that this settlement will end the abuse from Chesapeake and allow landowners to take a new lease with no deductions,” said AG Shapiro. “This case is about standing up to powerful interests when they try to take advantage of people. And it’s about my duty, as the Attorney General of this Commonwealth, to uphold the law and apply it.”

The PA Office of Attorney General (OAG) initially filed a complaint against Chesapeake Energy, the country’s second-largest national gas producer, in December 2015. The complaint alleged Chesapeake engaged in unfair and deceptive business practices in securing natural gas leases and in its improper payment of royalties to Pennsylvania landowners. 

The complaint was amended in 2016 to add Anadarko Petroleum as a defendant and allegations that Chesapeake and Anadarko allocated markets to secure leases and deprived landowners of the benefit of competition for securing leases.

In December 2017, the Bradford County Court of Common Pleas denied Chesapeake’s preliminary objections to the complaint finding that the defendants and their oil and gas leasing practices are subject to the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law and that the lawsuit was in the public interest. 

The company then appealed the decision and in March 2019, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania again found defendants and their oil and gas leasing practices were subject to the UTPCPL. 

The defendants appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which conducted oral arguments in May 2020.

On June 28, 2020, Chesapeake filed for bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division. The bankruptcy court stayed the Pennsylvania Supreme Court case against Chesapeake so it could not go forward. 

On February 9, 2021, Chesapeake emerged from bankruptcy, but an injunction was put in place that continues to prevent the Office of Attorney General from moving forward with this case and getting the restitution landowners deserve. 

The case against Anadarko is awaiting a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

“For years, Chesapeake tried to publicly pressure my Office into settling on their terms. That didn’t happen,” said Shapiro. “They tried to argue that our court action was holding up settlements in a separate, private class-action lawsuit filed directly by landowners…None of this was necessary; they didn’t have to act like this, and the fact of the matter their conduct exposed their disregard and mistreatment of folks here in Northeastern Pennsylvania and in the Northern Tier.”

Under the settlement, Chesapeake Energy must:

-- Provide an opportunity to Pennsylvania landowners with Chesapeake leases to obtain better payment of royalties going forward;

-- Stop offering leases that contain “market enhancement” clauses or “ready for sale or use” clauses to Pennsylvania landowners;

-- Hire an Ombudsman to investigate individual claims, selected by AG Shapiro and Chesapeake, to review and respond to landowner complaints;

-- Allow the Pennsylvania OAG access to Chesapeake’s books and records to ensure compliance with the settlement agreement;

-- Provide clear, transparent pricing information on their website, as well as an annual report to the Pennsylvania OAG detailing royalty payments; and

-- Pay landowners $5.3 million in restitution and $350,000 to the OAG towards its costs and fees.

The settlement has been filed in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division. Executive Deputy Attorney General James Donahue, Chief Deputy Attorney General Tracy Wertz, and Senior Deputy Attorneys General Joseph Betsko and Norman Marden of the Public Protection Division and Antitrust Section managed the case with assistance from the Civil Division’s Appellate and Financial Enforcement Sections. 

The investigation was conducted by Nina Correale and Logan Kane. 

The AG’s office has posted a FAQ sheet for those interested in how this settlement will impact them.

The Senate and House have been wrestling with the royalty issues landowers face for years.  Their last major attempt at resolving some of the issues was in 2018, without success.  Read more here.


AP: AG Shapiro Agrees To Settle Gas Royalty Case With Chesapeake Energy

Related Article:

-- House Environment Committee Set To Meet Oct. 9 On Natural Gas Royalty Bill [2018]
[Posted: March 8, 2021] 
PA Environment Digest

Help Wanted: District Manager, Northumberland County Conservation District

Northumberland County Commissioners are seeking qualified candidates for the position of District Manager for the Northumberland County Conservation District.

The District Manager serves directly under the District Board of Directors of the Northumberland County Conservation District and the Board of Directors of the Northumberland County Agricultural Land Preservation Program.

Click Here for all the details.  The deadline for applications is April 1.  Questions and resumes should be submitted to:  

    For information on positions open at other county conservation districts, visit the PACD Jobs webpage.

Related Article:

Help Wanted: Northumberland Conservation District Mosquito-Borne Disease Control Technicians 

[Posted: March 8, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

Bay Journal: What Will It Take To Clean Up Abandoned Mine Land In Chesapeake Bay Watershed? - Part I

By Ad Crable,
Chesapeake Bay Journal

This article first appeared on the Chesapeake Bay Journal website March 8, 2021--

Bay Journal’s Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a two-part series on the dramatic and lasting impact of unregulated coal mining that once took place in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. For nearly 200 years, coal from Pennsylvania and Maryland mines helped power the nation but left a legacy of polluted streams, coal waste piles and other problems.

The effort to heal scarred landscapes and tainted water began just 40 years ago and has a long way to go. But funding to restore abandoned mine land is largely tied to existing coal mining operations. 

In an odd twist, we need coal in order to clean up coal. As the nation moves away from coal-generated energy, what will fund the work that lies ahead?

Part 1 offers a look at how we got here. Part 2, coming in April, will explore restoration strategies, success stories and what it will take to get the job done.

In dozens of old coal mining towns in Pennsylvania and Western Maryland, black dust swirling off of naked piles of coal waste — called “bony piles” — forces people to hose off their houses and breathe polluted air. It’s been that way for so long that many people did not expect anything to change.

“Government did not have the resources to clean up the bony piles, and a lot of us thought they would be permanent parts of our communities,” said Andy McAllister, executive director of the Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation.

Sharing the landscape are thousands of miles of brightly colored streams infused with acid mine drainage, where you don’t go swimming without coming out orange or red. 

“Back when I was a kid, you wouldn’t even want to wade in it, not if you wanted to keep your shoes,” recalled an elderly Garrett County, MD, resident.

That is the legacy of unfettered coal mining in a significant chunk of the Bay drainage basin. West Virginia and Virginia have abandoned coal mining issues, too, but few are located in the Bay watershed.

Officials say considerable progress has been made toward erasing the environmental, safety and aesthetic problems from abandoned mine land in Pennsylvania and Maryland since cleanup began more than 40 years ago.

Together, the two states, federal government, groups and coal companies have laboriously removed those scars from more than 94,000 acres, largely through $1.6 billion in aid from fees placed on each ton of coal mined in the United States. 

Officials from the states say many of the very worst threats have been tackled.

Still, 1,794 miles of streams in Pennsylvania that drain into the Chesapeake Bay have the pH of vinegar and are lifeless, devoid of the fish and aquatic insects that build a healthy ecosystem.

In Western Maryland, an estimated 127 miles of otherwise high-quality streams are polluted by abandoned acid mine drainage.

Mine Reclamation Funding Threatened

The remaining workload is huge, and the future of its major funding stream — the Abandoned Mine Land Fund — is threatened. 

That federal initiative, which has funded the bulk of the cleanup since 1977, faces expiration later this year, and reauthorization by Congress is not certain. 

Even if renewed, the fee placed on each ton of coal for cleanups could be reduced to aid the faltering coal industry.

Whether the federal program continues, the use of coal in the United States continues to decline. That means less money being paid into the mandatory fund. 

It also means that more coal companies may go bankrupt, forfeiting environmental bonds or finding themselves unable to remediate abandoned mine land when they re-mine old sites with mechanized equipment.

Still A Threat

Pennsylvania has the most abandoned mine land in the nation and about one-third of all such land in the United States. 

Statewide, there are as many as 300,000 acres of abandoned coal lands, pocked with waste piles, mine shafts and unreclaimed surface mine land in 45 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. 

More than 800 piles of coal waste surround coal towns, devoid of vegetation, blowing a pesky black film on buildings and polluting the air and local streams.

In Pennsylvania, acid mine drainage is just behind agriculture runoff as the top source of water pollution.

Acid mine drainage is usually formed when pyrite, a molecule of iron, and sulfur, commonly found in coal, combine with oxygen and water to produce sulfuric acid, leaving a yellow or red precipitate on streambed rocks. Sometimes aluminum dominates, and waters may begin clear but are equally toxic. 

In all, approximately 26 kinds of heavy metals can be released.

The drainage flows from open mines and from “blowouts” from thousands of miles of sealed mine tunnels.

Each year, Pennsylvania’s [DEP} Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation has to come to the rescue of people whose homes have listed into caved-in mines. 

And each year, the agency has to build new water sources for homeowners or communities whose drinking water becomes tainted by acid mine drainage. 

Of the bureau’s 127 reclamation projects in 2020, 54 were classified as emergencies.

For larger communities, acid mine drainage drives up the cost of water treatment.

In two western Pennsylvania counties studied between 2013 and 2017, underground mining caused streambeds to fracture and drain water 60 times on 46 streams. The beds were grouted or lined with plastic as temporary fixes.

The Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation estimates it would take $15 billion and 105 years at the current rate to clean up the abandoned mine sites statewide. 

That includes 840 coal waste piles and 5,500 miles of streams rendered lifeless by acid mine drainage, as well as safety issues such as open mine shafts, exposed highwalls, mine portals and landslides. 

Two thousand miles of those polluted streams drain into the Chesapeake Bay.

Pennsylvania also has about 40 active mine fires, where coal seams burn underground. 

Of the $65 million budget to address abandoned mine land in the state in 2020, $16.5 million went to extinguishing a 14-year-old underground mine fire that was causing local pollution problems.

The most infamous and eerie example of smoldering coal mines is in Centralia, where an underground fire, burning since 1962, has slowly emptied a borough of more than 1,000 people down to five homes. All of the other homes were bulldozed.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission says there are 5,166 miles of streams that cannot support fish because of acid mine drainage. If healthy, many of them could support robust trout populations. 

The agency put a price tag on that lost recreational value: $29 million a year.

Maryland’s Abandoned Mine Land Program says there are $59 million worth of reclamation projects outstanding. Maryland’s legacy mine land problems are similar to Pennsylvania’s but on a smaller scale. No official figure is available, but there may be approximately 5,000 acres remaining to be cleaned up.

Acid Mine Damage & The Bay

Do the acidic water and heavy metals flushing from abandoned mines in Pennsylvania and Maryland harm the Chesapeake Bay?

Certainly, vast dilution takes place as the water flows downstream, and some officials say that insulates the Bay from any deleterious effect.

The state-federal Chesapeake Bay Program, which leads the Bay restoration effort, has said that “the buffering capacity of the region is sufficient to neutralize all of the acid from acid mine drainage.” But more studies need to be done, it says, “to evaluate transport of metals to the Bay itself.”

Other scientists have some concerns about downstream impacts.

“Impacts of acid mine drainage on stream ecosystem function … cascade to downstream reaches, impacting function there and perhaps even in receiving estuaries, in our case, the Chesapeake and Delaware bays,” concluded a 2012 study by the Stroud Water Research Center and two universities.

“The alteration of function in thousands of kilometers of acid mine drainage-impacted steams in Pennsylvania suggests that remediation of acid mine drainage-impacted reaches may be just as critical as other pollution mitigation strategies that are implemented to improve water quality in large rivers and estuaries.”

Several studies have found that the heavy metals produced in acid mine drainage actually remove harmful phosphorus nutrients. But later, sediment containing the nutrient may move downstream.

Moreover, contends John Dawes of the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, “I would argue that if those 2,000 miles [of acid mine-damaged streams] in the Bay watershed were fully functional and processing nitrogen, I think it could have a measurable impact on the Bay.”

Richard Eskin, director of Maryland’s science services administration in the Department of the Environment, sees it this way: “Acid mine drainage isn’t a significant concern for the Bay, but it’s not something we should ignore either, not if we want to talk honestly about fixing watersheds.”

History Of Mining

The first reports of coal mining in Pennsylvania go back to the 1700s, when a fledgling iron industry took hold. One of the earliest coal extractions during the Colonial period was collected from a Pittsburgh coal seam and transported by canoe to a military fort.

By the mid-1800s, coal replaced the use of wood in factories that produced steel, locomotives, railroad lines and ships, as well as for heating homes. Coal powered the steel that helped win both World Wars.

The state became the nation’s top producer of coal, both anthracite and bituminous, until the 1930s when it was passed by West Virginia. Production peaked in 1918, when 277 million tons of coal were hauled out of 2,851 underground mines.

In contrast, there are currently 211 coal mines in the state, 113 of them in the Bay watershed. Most are surface mines. Underground mines are mostly mechanized.

The industry was wracked by violence in the 1920s as exploited miners sought to organize. The 1920s also marked the decline of peak coal in the state resulting from overproduction and shrinking markets.

Use of coal shifted from the steel industry to fueling electricity. But that, too, is in decline in the face of cheaper natural gas, along with concerns about global warming and impacts on human health from coal-fired power plants.

Pennsylvania has slipped to third in the nation in coal production, behind Wyoming and West Virginia and is barely ahead of Illinois. Both nuclear power and natural gas supply more electricity in the state than coal.

One of the most infamous mining accidents in Pennsylvania was the Knox Mine disaster in 1959. Operating illegally, a coal company mined an underground vein of coal within 19 inches of the surface of the Susquehanna River.

The roof collapsed and a whirlpool formed as the river flooded the network of mines. Twelve miners died, and their bodies were never recovered. Sand, concrete and even train boxcars were poured into the gaping hole over several weeks to stem the drain.

The accident caused mining laws to be reformed in Pennsylvania and essentially ended underground mining for anthracite coal in the state.

Western Maryland’s underground coal mines also date from the 1700s. Later, use of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad allowed access to markets at home and abroad.

Maryland coal mining peaked in the early 1900s, with 450 mines in operation. Today, there are 48 active coal mines, all but four of them surface mines. All but two are located in the Chesapeake Bay drainage basin. Coal drives 37 percent of all electricity produced in Maryland.

Because mines were often located in rural areas, coal companies built entire towns. Many have disappeared completely.

The mining workforce often was composed of immigrant laborers. It was dangerous work. From 1877 to 1940, 18,000 men and boys died in mines in Pennsylvania from accidents. Untold numbers died later from the insidious black lung disease, caused by inhaling coal dust.

First Regulations

Being the economic force that they were, coal mines were not regulated against environmental damage. 

It was typical for coal companies, both large and small, to mine an area, then move on, leaving buildings, leaking mine shafts, polluted water and scarred lands behind — until 1977, when Congress passed the Surface Mining, Reclamation and Control Act.

Vetoed twice and resisted for years, the law was pushed into action by public outcry and driven in large part by the vast abandoned mine land in Pennsylvania. 

The legislation brought control over coal mining by the federal government. It required all mining companies going forward to better protect the environment and restore land to beneficial use when mining ceased.  [Read more here - PA’s Walter Heine]

But its most ambitious initiative was to start cleaning up the long-festering legacy of abandoned mine land. All states had to inventory abandoned mine land and develop reclamation plans. 

To fund cleanups, a reclamation fee, placed on each ton of extracted coal mined, was placed in a trust fund.

The money was distributed to states, based on the amount of abandoned mine land, with an emphasis on correcting threats to public health and safety. 

Cleaning up the environment was initially a lower priority, but a change in the law in 1996 allows more to be spent on addressing acid mine drainage.

In 2016, Congress added a taxpayer-funded program, the Abandoned Mine Land Pilot Program, which allows for cleanups that help return mine land to productive uses to help the economies of coal communities.

Between the two funds, Pennsylvania has received $1.5 billion to date. Maryland, which doesn’t qualify for the pilot funds and gets the minimum of trust funds, has gotten about $84 million.

The cleanup money has been used for a wide variety of projects.

The Maryland Bureau of Mines reports that it has overseen more than 300 projects, cleaned up 2,400 acres of abandoned mine land, removed 14 miles of dangerous highwalls, restored or improved 115 miles of streams, sealed more than 100 mine portals, stabilized 27 landslides, provided drinkable water to 128 homes and stabilized miles of roads and listing buildings, including some on the campus of Frostburg State University.

A bureau spokesman said all of the high-priority abandoned mine problems have been addressed in Western Maryland, either with federal trust fund money or by coal companies re-mining old sites.

Pennsylvania has remediated 76,000 acres. Projects have tackled clogged streams, dangerous highwalls, landslides, mine openings, coal waste piles, underground mine fires and subsidence issues. 

Although it is not considered a human health priority, acid mine drainage is increasingly being treated to clean up the dead and colorized streams around the state.

In both states, projects intended to extract the orange hue and return life to streams generally treat the symptoms rather than the cause, using systems that must be run and maintained with no end in sight. 

Active treatment systems are like mini wastewater plants, taking in contaminated water and releasing it in better condition. Passive systems range from neutralizing the acidic water with injections of lime to the creation of wetlands that use mushroom compost to create bacteria that captures heavy metals.

There are more than 300 active and passive treatment systems in Pennsylvania and 60 in Maryland coal country, cleansing many streams that flow toward the Chesapeake Bay.

Meanwhile, a private initiative to burn old coal waste piles to generate electricity has substantially boosted the cleanup effort in Pennsylvania. There are 10 such plants in the state. They treat the coal before burning it to reduce air pollution.

According to the Anthracite Region Independent Power Producers Association, the effort to date has removed 225 million tons of refuse, restored 1,200 miles of streams and reclaimed 7,200 acres of land.

“These plants have played a crucial role in cleaning up and restoring many of the hundreds of abandoned coal waste piles,” said Dawes of the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds. Coal waste piles are not considered high priority under federal reclamation rules and would not have gotten funding for cleanup, he said.

The plants “are truly life altering for the communities where they are located,” said Jerrod Givens of the Appalachian Region Independent Power Producers Association.

(Look for Part II in April - Exploring restoration strategies, success stories and what it will take to get the job done.)

[PA Chesapeake Bay Plan

[For more information on Pennsylvania’s plan, visit DEP’s Chesapeake Bay Office webpage.

[How Clean Is Your Stream?

[DEP’s Interactive Report Viewer allows you to zoom in on your own stream or watershed to find out how clean your stream is or if it has impaired water quality using the latest information in the draft 2020 Water Quality Report.]

(Photos: Acid mine drainage pollutes Little Conemaugh River; Shamokin Creek flows orange through Shamokin, Northumberland County.)

More News On Chesapeake Bay:

Latest From The Chesapeake Bay Journal

Click Here to subscribe to the free Chesapeake Bay Journal

Click Here to support the Chesapeake Bay Journal

(Reprinted from the Chesapeake Bay Journal website.)

Related Articles:

-- DEP Citizens Advisory Council Meets March 16 On Mine Reclamation Needs; Expiration Of Federal Fee Would Leave PA With No Resources To Deal With This Critical Issue 

-- DEP: Federal Fee Due To Expire In 2021 That Is The Only Source Of Funds To Address $3.9 Billion In High-Priority AML Problems [2019]

-- Over 100 Groups Sign Letter Urging Congressional Action On Federal Mine Reclamation Fee, Black Lung Bills

-- DEP, EPCAMR, Trout Unlimited Tell U.S. House Subcommittee Hearing Reauthorizing Federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fee Critical, There’s A Lot More To Do

[Posted: March 8, 2021]  PA Environment Digest 

Invasive Zebra Mussels Found In 'Moss Ball' Aquarium Products Sold In PA

The Fish and Boat Commission is joining fish and wildlife agencies nationwide to alert consumers about aquarium products that may be infested with invasive Zebra Mussels.

These products, known as "moss balls," are a popular type of living aquarium plant sold in several states, including Pennsylvania.  

It was recently discovered that a batch of these products, which are marketed under popular brand names such as "Betta Buddy" or "Mini Marimo Moss Balls," was contaminated with invasive Zebra Mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) and distributed to pet stores across the country. 

While several major pet product retailers, including Petco and PetSmart, have proactively removed these products from their shelves, PFBC Waterways Conservation Officers in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, have confirmed the presence of these contaminated products in at least one Pennsylvania store. 

"Zebra Mussels are one of the most troublesome invasive species in the United States and can cause major ecological and economic damage such as clogging water intake pipes, damaging boats, or damaging fisheries by impacting aquatic food webs," said Sean Hartzell, PFBC Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator.  "Zebra Mussels are small and can produce microscopic larvae, so any water containing contaminated moss balls may contain larval Zebra Mussels.  The potential spread of this invasive species is a major concern for our aquatic resources in Pennsylvania."

Zebra Mussels are small black and white striped, "D-Shaped" bivalves about the size of a thumbnail or smaller.

The PFBC urges anyone who has purchased a moss ball within the past several weeks to follow U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guidance on how to properly disinfect moss balls and clean aquarium systems.  

"Because Zebra Mussel larvae may not be visible to the naked eye, it is important that everyone who recently purchased a moss ball follow this strict disinfection protocol," added Hartzell.  "Just because you can't see the mussels in your tank doesn't mean they're not there.  Don't take any chances."

The transportation or release of Zebra Mussels or their larvae into Commonwealth waters is considered unlawful (58 Pa. Code § 73.1).  

Pennsylvanians who observe suspected Zebra Mussels or other aquatic invasive species can report them to the PFBC through the "Report AIS" portal of the Agency's webpage.

[Posted: March 8, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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