Thursday, May 25, 2017

DEP, Trout Unlimited Testify At U.S. House Hearing On Good Samaritan Bill To Encourage Mine Reclamation

The U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing Wednesday on a draft Community Reclamation Partnerships Act (LaHood-R-IL), or good samaritan law, designed to encourage reclamation of abandoned mines.
Laws like Pennsylvania’s Good Samaritan Act adopted in 1999 are designed to promote abandoned mine reclamation by protecting landowners, groups and individuals who volunteer to reclaim abandoned mines, treat acid mine drainage or plug abandoned oil and gas wells from civil and environmental liability.  The groups can be covered by Good Samaritan if they did not cause or create the abandoned mine or water pollution.
John Stefanko, DEP Deputy Secretary for Active and Abandoned Mine Operations, and Chris Wood, President of Trout Unlimited, were two of the three witnesses at the hearing.
Stefanko, also representing the Interstate Mining Compact Commission and the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs, gave an overview of Pennsylvania’s experience with the Good Samaritan Program.
Since 1999, Pennsylvania had 79 acid mine drainage treatment projects in 20 counties undertaken under the program with a variety of groups that include local governments, municipal authorities, individual community supporters, corporations, watershed associations and conservancies.
A key component of the program’s success is its reliance on the DEP’s Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program’s long-standing expertise in their field, Stefanko explained.
Under Pennsylvania’s program, all activities related to a given project proceed under the guidance and approval of DEP, which utilizes its expertise and long resume of successful water treatment projects to appropriately adjust requirements to match the scale and complexity of the proposed project and to ensure that only well-conceived projects move forward.
Stefanko said the program proposed by the bill before the Committee today reflects the structure of the EGSA, and should successfully integrate its advantages.
Chris Wood, President of Trout Unlimited, also used the Pennsylvania experience as an example.  From his testimony--
In Pennsylvania’s lower Kettle Creek watershed [Potter, Tioga Counties], an area scarred by abandoned mine drainage, water quality is improving.
For example, Trout Unlimited and partners have worked to reclaim about 160 acres of abandoned mine land and installed nine passive treatment systems in the Kettle Creek watershed.
As a result, 3 stream miles that were previously devoid of life are now full of fish and aquatic insects, and 6 miles of reconnected stream now boasts a thriving population of native brook trout.
The improvements have been made possible because state level Good Samaritan protections have allowed groups such as Trout Unlimited to take on the challenging work.
Federal-level Good Samaritan protections would facilitate cleanups of abandoned coal mine lands across the country, which is why Trout Unlimited President and CEO Chris Wood offered testimony today on Capitol Hill on the Community Reclamation Partnership Act.
“TU has worked to restore streams and rivers damaged by pollution from abandoned mines from the Appalachian coalfields in Pennsylvania to the hardrock mining areas of the Rocky Mountain states, and my testimony is based upon these experiences,” Wood said in the hearing hosted by the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee. “TU stands ready to expand our work to clean up abandoned mine pollution, and we need such legislation to make it happen”
Wood told the subcommittee’s members that the draft bill provides a solid foundation.
“There is room for improvement in some areas, but we regard the draft as a significant step that is headed in the right direction,” Wood said. “It must work well on the ground, of course, and as our field practitioners are studying the Draft Bill, we will offer additional feedback in the coming days. We are confident that the finished, introduced bill will be worthy of the Subcommittee’s strong consideration and eventual approval.”
Babb Creek [Tioga County] Pennsylvania is another beneficiary of abandoned mine reclamation work.
“Several years ago, the Babb Creek Watershed Association accomplished delisting 14 miles of Babb Creek, now a wild trout fishery, from EPA’s impaired streams list,” Wood noted. “ Another 14 miles in the Tangascootack Creek watershed is pending removal from the impaired streams list as a result of passive treatment systems constructed by the Clinton County Conservation District.”
And, on a larger scale, Wood noted impressive improvements in the West Branch Susquehanna River watershed has over the past few decades.
“A comparison of conditions in the West Branch Susquehanna in 1972 with those in 2009 indicated that fish species increased 3,000 percent, and pH increased from 3.8 to 6.6,” Wood said.
Wood pledged TU support to Congressional efforts to enact an abandoned coal mine Good Samaritan policy.
“Improving water quality around the nation is a fundamental goal of the work of this subcommittee, and thus we are pleased that the subcommittee is looking at one of the most vexing water problems remaining in coal country,” he said. “We stand ready to work with you so that affected communities around the nation will again have clean, fishable waters.”
Click Here for copies of witness testimony and to watch a video of the hearing.
Not The First Hearing
The Department of Environmental Protection and Trout Unlimited testified before  Congress in 2015 on this same issue.  The Western PA Coalition For Abandoned Mine Reclamation and Eastern PA Coalition For Abandoned Mine Reclamation have also been active on the Good Samaritan Program.
For more information on Pennsylvania’s program, visit DEP’s Environmental Good Samaritan Act webpage.
(Photo: Before/After in South Branch Bear Run, Indiana County, Susquehanna River Basin Commission.)

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