Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Op-Ed: Federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Trust Fund Can Be Reauthorized

By John Oliver & R. John Dawes

This op-ed first appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on September 1--

Pennsylvania is home to more abandoned coal mines than anywhere else in the country. We were the early pioneers of the energy industry and coal powered the making of steel that won World War II. 
But this rich legacy caused extensive land and water devastation to our coal regions.
At the height of coal mining in Pennsylvania, few environmental regulations existed. Coal mine owners were not required to restore the land to its original condition, clean polluted streams or remove any of the hazardous structures that were located inside the mine. 
When mining was completed, companies would move on and find new sites where coal could be mined.
This cycle of mining continued for more than 200 years until Congress passed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977. This legislation not only required reclamation concurrent with mining, but most important, it created the Abandoned Mine Land Trust Fund.
The AML Trust Fund allocates nontaxpayer funding to pay for the cleanup of mine sites that were abandoned before 1977. The federal government collects a tonnage fee on both deep and strip-mined coal, and that money is then distributed to individual states to support reclamation activities. 
The reauthorization of the AML Trust Fund would extend the program for 15 years at the current fee collection levels on a per ton basis.
Out of our 67 counties, 43 of them have abandoned mines, with sites ranging from the Ohio River Basin to the Delaware River Basin and the Susquehanna River Basin — which has led to the Chesapeake Bay being seriously polluted over the years. 
There are over 5,000 miles of acid-mine drainage that has impaired our rivers and streams.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, there are approximately 250,000 acres of abandoned mines throughout the state. Nearly 2.7 million Pennsylvanians live within 1 mile of an abandoned mine site.
Once a mine is reclaimed, the site can be developed for industrial and business opportunities, or provide a hazard-free space for families to enjoy recreational activities like fishing, boating, hunting and hiking. 
Abandoned mines must be reclaimed, and if they are not, communities are deprived of living in a healthy environment and forced to deal with fewer job opportunities and stunted economic growth.
Since 1977, Pennsylvania has received more than $1.3 billion from the AML Fund Trust Fund to support mine reclamation. 
Utilizing the AML Trust Fund and public-private partnerships, Pennsylvania has been able to reclaim more than 167 square miles of abandoned mines sites, which generated more than $713.6 million for the construction industry.
Nearly 2 million Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reauthorizing the AML Trust Fund has the potential to create thousands of new construction jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the commonwealth.
Recently, U.S. Reps. Glenn Thompson, R-Centre, and Matt Cartwright, D-Lackawanna, led the bipartisan effort in the House to get their colleagues to pass the AML Trust Fund reauthorization. 
This is an issue that Mr. Thompson and Mr. Cartwright know well. Mr. Thompson’s district has the most abandoned mine sites and Mr. Cartwright’s district has the second most out of any congressional districts in the nation.
Fourteen members of the Pennsylvania delegation, including Reps. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Peters, Mike Kelly, R-Butler, Conor Lamb, D-Mt. Lebanon, and Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, supported the legislation, which proves that our representatives know when it’s time to put party politics aside and support measures that benefit their constituents.
Now is the time for the Senate to build upon the House’s actions and reauthorize the AML Trust Fund. Recently, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., became a co-sponsor of legislation from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to extend the reauthorization of the AML Trust Fund at current levels, and we know they are both committed to working across the aisle and getting their Republican colleagues to support it.
To be clear: The AML reauthorization is not a partisan issue. Nor is it a spending bill. It is simply allowing the structure of a program that has been successful to continue.
Without the reauthorization of the AML Trust Fund, the health of our communities, neighbors and environment will be at stake. 
Our elected officials must remember that Pennsylvania has the most to gain if this reauthorization is passed— and the most to lose if it’s not.

John Oliver is the mayor of Sewickley Heights. He served as the first secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and as the president of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. 

R. John Dawes is the executive director of the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds. He served as a consultant to the Heinz Endowment’s Environmental Program and on the White House Committee for Sustainable Water Resources Roundtable on Indicators.

[Visit the PA AML Campaign website for more information from the point of view of local and regional groups involved in abandoned mine reclamation in Pennsylvania.
[Visit the Our Work’s Not Done website supported by states involved in the federal abandoned mine reclamation program.]
Related Articles - Federal Mine Reclamation Fee:
Related Article This Week:
[Posted: Sept. 1, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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