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Budget: WPCAMR: Federal, State Abandoned Mine Reclamation Funding Roundup

In an Abandoned Mine Post this week, the Western PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation provided an update on federal and state funding to fight Pennsylvania's #1 threat to water quality-- abandoned mine sites--
            As federal and state government continue to refine their budgets, members of our environmental community are concerned about how proposed budget cuts could affect abandoned mine reclamation efforts.
            First, let's start with the Federal budget. The Federal Fiscal Year 2012 proposed budget was released by the President on February 14. That proposed budget contains some items of interest to the Abandoned Mine Reclamation community.
            The proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency FY 2012 budget ($1.3 Billion less than FY 2010) aims to cut approximately 18 percent out of the Section 319 program, a program that has brought numerous successes to the AMR community in Pennsylvania and throughout the Appalachian coalfields. 
            With Pennsylvania's Growing Greener funds shrinking, Section 319 funding may take on even more importance as a way to continue crucial AMR projects and programs in this state. In other states of the eastern coalfields, Section 319 funding remains a major source of project funding. 
            Given that the budget talks are likely to continue and numbers are likely to shift around, we will keep a close eye on this proposed reduction as the federal budget scenario continues to unfold.
            Meanwhile, at the Department of the Interior, while the proposed budget for the federal Office of Surface Mining Regulation and Enforcement cuts a portion of their funding but preserves the successful Watershed Cooperative Agreement Program, the OSMRE may have to change some of its procedures
            One item in particular, stands out in the OSMRE budget. The proposed FY 2012 OSMRE budget calls for a change in the way the States handle their prioritization of projects to be funded through Title IV of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. 
            Although the receiving states were already mandated by the re-authorized SMCRA to prioritize their Title IV eligible projects on their own, it appears that the federal government itself is interested in prioritizing funding to the most hazardous sites. OSMRE proposes to establish an advisory council to review and rank reclamation projects proposed by the State and then recommend the distribution of funds to the highest priority sites.
            According to a February 14 news release from OSMRE, "The budget proposes to reform mandatory spending on abandoned mine reclamation to create a competitive grant program that would address the Nation's highest priority abandoned coal mine sites, and mitigate the most critical public health and environmental hazards."  
            How this proposed competitive grant program would impact the way Pennsylvania prioritizes its projects and how it uses its Title IV funding remains unclear at this time.
            Additionally, the proposed OSMRE budget also proposes to terminate unrestricted mandatory payments to States and Tribes that have finished restoring their abandoned coal mines.  As it stands now, states that have restored their abandoned coal mines, i.e. "Certified States" such as Wyoming, continue to receive unrestricted payments from Title IV. 
            In all likelihood, the states that have finished restoring their abandoned coal mines will fight this proposed change. Also, the 2012 budget eliminates discretionary grants to States for Abandoned Mine Land emergencies.
            Of course, none of these budget changes are set in stone and it's likely that some of these initial numbers and proposed cuts may change. In the meantime, the Federal government is operating on a continuing resolution which is slated to end on March 18. 
            In spite of the current continuing resolution's imminent expiration, it appears that the federal budget talks will continue for a while longer as the House Appropriations Committee recently introduced a continuing resolution to fund the federal government at current rates until April 8.
            Closer to home, the release of the Governor's proposed state budget last week showed cuts in environmental programs and we will likely see less Growing Greener funding available for watershed grants this year as compared to last fiscal year. Growing Greener has been the funding source for the Watershed Specialist positions as well as watershed project grants.
            On a legislative note here in Pennsylvania, there is an effort to address Pennsylvania's prevailing wage law.   
            Sen. Michael Brubaker (R-Lancaster) introduced legislation on March 8th that would place a moratorium on prevailing wage requirements for municipal and school construction projects to reduce costs to taxpayers.  
            Senate Bill 792 would reduce costs by placing a three-year moratorium on prevailing wage requirements. This legislation presumably may be able to address other publicly funded construction projects such as AMD treatment systems.
            WPCAMR will continue to monitor the ever-changing events surrounding the federal and state budget and will keep you informed in the near future, of changes as they relate to the AMR community.

(Written By Andy McAllister, Regional Coordinator, WPCAMR)


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