Friday, March 19, 2021

U.S. House Hearing On Reauthorizing Federal Abandoned Mine Lands Program: We Don’t Deserve To Wait Any Longer For Clean Streams, Diversified Economies

On March 18, Robert Hughes from the
Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation told the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources-- “We don’t deserve to have to wait any longer for clean streams, green spaces, vibrant and diversified regional economies, and communities in which our children can safely recreate, live, work, and play.”

“We want to continue to revitalize and revive our communities so that people want to stay, make an honest living, have good paying jobs, a sense of place and pride, and to mostly importantly, raise their families,” Hughes said.

Hughes and John Stefanko, DEP Deputy Secretary for Active and Abandoned Mine Operations testified in favor of bipartisan legislation Pennsylvania members of Congress Matt Cartwright (D) and Glenn Thompson (R) to reauthorize and accelerate federal funding to reclaim abandoned mine lands in Pennsylvania and across America before it runs out in September-- HR 1733 and HR 1734-- as well as HR 1146 to encourage community mine reclamation partnerships.

Robert Hughes

In his testimony, Hughes outlined the efforts his group in Northeast Pennsylvania and a sister group-- Western PA Coalition of Abandoned Mine Reclamation--  have undertaken to reclaim abandoned mines and treat mine discharges through extensive local, state and national partnerships.

He also outlined the extensive support in Pennsylvania for reauthorization of the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation program, including 49 PA Trout Unlimited Chapters with their 15,000+ members, businesses and industries, county conservation districts, county and local governments, the Susquehanna River  Basin Commission, members of the General Assembly and Gov. Wolf and two dozen nonprofit environmental and watershed groups across the state.

“There are job creation and workforce development opportunities in the coalfields that are directly related to AML and AMD remediation,” said Hughes. 

“EPCAMR sees the following sectors as areas of economic improvement on abandoned mine lands: agriculture, alternative energy, recreational tourism, community recreational use, solar panel farms, hemp farms, beekeeping, silviculture, greenhouses, electrical generation from wind farms, hydroelectric potential, geothermal energy, water supply, resource recovery of metals, rare earth elements recovery, consumptive use, and low-flow augmentation. 

“EPCAMR encourages private, public, and entrepreneurial partnerships to look closely into these business sectors that have the potential to lead to a complete diversification of the local economies historically built around coal,” he added.

“Our momentum has grown. The urgent need to act is now. We cannot belabor these issues any longer. We have worked long and hard to come up with innovative solutions, creative partnerships, a better understanding of our land and water resource potential as resources and not seeing them as eyesores, blight, and pollution problems that are obvious  

“Now more than ever, we need to turn the potential of these abandoned mine lands and AMD discharges into possibilities and a reality by passing these vital bills. 

“This is a bipartisan opportunity for communities that have historically depended on the coal industry to reimagine ourselves by creating new, diverse economies on our own terms. 

“These bills can showcase the beginning point of a bipartisan victory for an economic recovery for the people and places that powered our United States of America for generations. The time is now.”

Click Here to read his entire testimony.

John Stefanko

In his testimony, John Stefanko provided comments in support of the bills not only from DEP and Pennsylvania, but also for the Interstate Mining Compact Commission, the multi-state group that represents the natural resource and environmental protection interests of its 26 member states.

He also endorsed the testimony by the States and Tribes of the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs, which also presented testimony at the hearing.

Stefanko said reauthorizing the federal mine reclamation fee, which is due to expire in September, is the top legislative priority for DEP, Pennsylvania and the IMCC.

“Without this stable and consistent source of funding, the AML programs will be unable to continue their vital work, which includes addressing the 250-300 AML emergencies that occur across the nation’s coalfields each year. 

“In essence, to extend the AML fee is to extend the AML program itself. As expiration of Title IV fee collection authority approaches, one thing is abundantly clear: the AML programs have made great progress, but our work is not done; and the remaining work far exceeds available resources.

“Based on expected AML fee collections between now and the end of 2021, added

to the amounts currently remaining in the AML Fund, we project that, without reauthorization, approximately $2.33 billion in AML grants will be distributed to the States and Tribes in total over the remaining life of the program. 

“That amount represents only about one-quarter of what is needed as compared to the current OSMRE estimate of roughly $10.8 billion in construction costs for remaining AML work. 

“This means that without reauthorization of the AML fee, over $8 billion in construction costs currently listed in the AML inventory will remain. 

[Note: A report released last week by the Ohio River Valley Institute puts the total cost of cleaning up unreclaimed coal mine land and treating discharges at between $21 billion and $32.4 billion.  Read more here.]

“And taking into consideration the additional non-construction costs necessary to plan and design these projects and the currently unaccounted for impact of annual inflation, the funding shortfall is much wider.”

On HR 1146, the community reclamation partnerships bill, Stefanko said, “Pennsylvania is a prime example of a place with extensive opportunities for partnerships between the state and charitable third-parties, often called “Good Samaritans”, which include individuals, advocacy groups, private philanthropic  foundations, and even businesses.

“In fact, Pennsylvania provides an excellent demonstration of the good that has already been achieved through these types of partnership efforts. 

“Pennsylvania NGOs operate over 300 mine drainage treatment systems and have undertaken thousands of other environmental conservation efforts, often with significant coordination with state personnel. 

“Still, there is much more that could be done both by the state and by their potential Good Samaritan partners were it not for significant legal impediments to their work.”

He also noted, “AML sites can be prime locations for new business ventures and/or tourist attractions, creating new space for communities to grow economically. 

“Restored water resources also breed new opportunities and growth, for example by restoring recreational value to streams and lakes and ensuring access to clean water for human and industrial uses.

“It is estimated that through the effects of AML work, every dollar of AML funding spent returns $1.61 to local economies; and for every mile of stream improved, there is a net gain of $106,000 per year to local economies.”

“In an era of increasing economic hardship for coalfield communities, the State and Tribal AML programs’ work has become more important than ever.

“In view of the clear continuing role for the AML programs, and the immense remaining AML inventory, it must be recognized that if the long-term health, safety, environment, and economic livelihoods of these most deserving communities are truly to be protected and restored, it is imperative that the continuing need for AML work be kept firmly in mind. In order to bring a bright economic future back to coal country, a future for the AML programs must be ensured.”

Click Here for a copy of his testimony.

For copies of all written testimony and to watch a video of the hearing, visit the Restoring Abandoned Mine Lands, Local Economies and the Environment Hearing webpage.

More Information

The Pennsylvania AML Campaign, a coalition of conservation districts, watershed groups, and other local nonprofit groups also support reauthorization of the AML fee collection.

Visit the Our Work’s Not Done website supported by states involved in the federal abandoned mine reclamation program, including Pennsylvania.


CitizensV: Cong. Cartwright Asks Congress To Save Federal Mine Reclamation Program

Ohio River Valley Institute: The True Cost Of Cleaning Up Historic Damage From Coal Mining

Related Articles:

-- PA Members Of Congress Introduce Bipartisan Bills To Reclaim Abandoned Mine Lands, Create Jobs 

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

[Posted: March 19, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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