Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Trout Unlimited, Partners Push Congress To Support Mine Reclamation Fund Reauthorization

By David Kinney, Trout Unlimited Eastern Policy Director

As any trout angler who has come upon a bright orange stream in the central Appalachians knows, historical coal mining practices left us an enormous mess. Polluted moonscapes. Hazardous conditions.
Dead streams laced with abandoned mine drainage.
To address this legacy of pollution, Congress established the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund in 1977. Financed by a fee on every ton of coal currently produced, these funds have been distributed to states suffering from mining impacts, including Pennsylvania ($1.3 billion) and West Virginia ($600 million).
The program has been a significant success. Mine-scarred states leverage these dollars to reclaim tens of thousands of acres of land and restore hundreds of miles of [abandoned mine drainage] AMD-impaired streams.
The problem is that the work is nowhere close to done, and the fee expires in just two years.
That’s why Trout Unlimited, alongside many partners, is pushing for Congress to take action now to reauthorize the fee.
In Pennsylvania alone, 287,000 acres of mine land await cleanup, and 5,500 miles of streams are polluted with AMD, many of them devoid of life. At least 1.4 million Pennsylvanians live within a mile of abandoned mine lands. 
Estimates of the cleanup costs for Pennsylvania alone reach $15 billion, according to the Interstate Mining Compact Commission and the [federal] Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.
With funding, Trout Unlimited and our partners can continue the good work we’ve been doing to improve water quality and give wild brook trout populations a chance to thrive again. 
There is no better showcase of TU’s efforts to restore coldwater fisheries in Pennsylvania than the work we have done to revive waterways polluted by AMD.
Working with local partners over the past two decades, we have cleaned up most of the mine drainage in the lower Kettle Creek watershed, and we have welcomed the return of trout to once-polluted Twomile Run and Middle Branch.
In the West Branch Susquehanna River watershed and elsewhere, we are helping partners plan and implement mine drainage treatment projects. We have provided technical assistance on nearly 200 sites across the state, supporting millions of dollars of remediation projects made possible by grants from the AML trust fund.
With some 80 AMD treatment facilities now operating in the West Branch Susquehanna watershed, we are seeing water quality improve and fish populations multiplying, recent benchmark assessments show.
The $5.5 billion invested nationwide over the past decades has allowed states and tribes to clean up 875,000 acres of high-priority sites, seal 46,000 open mine shafts, and remove 29,000 acres of piles and embankments. More than $600 million has been spent to treat AMD.
For every dollar invested, $1.59 was returned to local economies.
In addition to seeking reauthorization of the fee, TU is encouraging Congress to restore the fee to the levels set in 1977; they were slashed in 2006. We also support exempting the fund from mandatory federal “sequestration” cuts, and requiring that all affected states receive at least $5 million annually.
Why now, when the fee does not expire until 2021? The last push for reauthorization took many years, so it is critical that we make sure this issue is on Congress’ radar now.
Visit TU’s Action Center, or reach out to David Kinney by sending email to: david.kinney@tu.org,  to find out how you can help us make the case for finishing the job of abandoned mine cleanup in Pennsylvania and beyond.
For more information on programs, initiatives, upcoming events and how you can get involved is available at the PA Council of Trout Unlimited website.
(Reprinted from the PA Council of Trout Unlimited Summer 2019 PA Trout newsletter.  Click Here to sign up for your own copy.)
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