Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Scranton Times Guest Essay: Seize The Rare Opportunity To Resolve Toxic Mine Drainage

This guest essay first appeared in the Scranton Times-Tribune on April 20, 2022--

Ask anyone in the communities where coal mining once dominated: acid mine drainage is a major problem.
Streams and rivers throughout coal-impacted communities are a sickly orange because of acid mine drainage. It’s created by a chemical reaction when water from long-abandoned coal mines mixes with oxygen, and it’s not just an eyesore.

 It means that the places so many of us call home are less healthy, less safe and less attractive for new residents and business. 

After all, who wants to live or work where the water is not clean or safe?

The good news is that help could be on the way. 

A new bipartisan bill called the STREAM Act, introduced by Democratic U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright of Moosic and Republican Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia, could bring millions of dollars to Eastern Pennsylvania to put people to work cleaning up water polluted by acid mine drainage.

A bipartisan solution is rare these days in Congress. But this problem is so serious and so obvious that it has gotten the attention from both sides of the aisle. We cannot let this momentum fade and we simply cannot afford to let the acid mine drainage crisis linger.

For years, we’ve been chipping away at the problem thanks to funding from federal and state abandoned mine lands programs, but the resources never have been enough to clean up every polluted body of water for the length of time that treatment is required. 

The challenge with acid mine drainage is that it does not go away. It requires constant treatment from systems that also must be maintained for years.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year secured $11.3 billion in new funding to tackle abandoned mine lands issues — resources finally at the scale to address the acid mine drainage challenge. 

But, there’s a catch. The long-standing federal AML program let states set aside 30% of their AML funding each year into accounts that accrue interest and can cover the perpetual costs of treating acid mine drainage. The infrastructure bill didn’t have that same provision.

Building and installing acid mine drainage treatment systems but not providing the funding to keep them running doesn’t make sense. 

We need a full-time solution that keeps the systems running, so our children and grandchildren can enjoy clean water that we did not have. That’s the solution that Cartwright’s and McKinley’s bill provides.

The bill lets states save some of their new AML money to operate acid mine drainage treatment systems. By cleaning up our water, it is good for our economies, good for our communities, and it doesn’t cost a single extra cent of taxpayer money.

We need this bill. A large number of acid mined discharges in Pennsylvania still need accurate monitoring of the flow and the chemistry of the pollution to determine the best treatment technology. 

The investments that the STREAM Act would secure would help do the analysis and install the right kind of treatment systems.

These funds are needed to the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation support community groups seeking funding for those AMD Treatment systems.

The abandoned mine coalition often seeks funding to monitor AMD discharges for chemistry and flow and gather the data that will be helpful when considering AMD treatment system alternatives.

We assess many of our watersheds to recommend reclamation work. We need to look at the intricate underground mine pools that are connected to these AMD discharges to better understand where polluted water originates. 

There is the potential to create long-term jobs and have private companies enter the arena. There is an even more vital need to work with private landowners to determine if they are willing to consider treatment systems on their properties.

Thanks to this bill and the infrastructure act, we have the opportunity to tackle this challenge. 

I urge the rest of Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation to join Cartwright in supporting this important bill. 

When they do, it will mean cleaner water for our communities for generations to come.

Robert Hughes is Executive Director of the Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation

Related Articles:

-- Casey, Cartwright Introduce Bipartisan Bill To Fund Abandoned Mine Treatment O&M Costs

-- Appalachian Voices: Appalachian Groups Urge Biden, Congress To Ensure Climate Action Helps Energy Transition Communities  

[Posted: April 20, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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