DEP, EPCAMR, Trout Unlimited Tell U.S. House Subcommittee Hearing Reauthorizing Federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fee Critical, There’s A Lot More To Do

On March 28, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation: Innovative Approaches and Economic Development Opportunities.

The hearing featured comments by Eric Cavazza, Director of DEP's Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation, Robert Hughes, Executive Director of the Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation and Chris Wood, President & CEO of Trout Unlimited.

Eric Cavazza

DEP’s Eric Cavazza also represented the Interstate Mining Compact Commission and the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs in his remarks.

Cavazza said the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program “approaches a crossroads. The fee on which the program relies is set to expire in 2021.”

“The AML program is the basis for meeting all of these quality of life necessities in the coalfields, as well as for innovative approaches to economic revitalization,” said Cavazza. “Extension of the fee that supports the program is therefore imperative to fulfilling Congress’ goals in these regions. It is our hope that by bringing the states’ and tribes’ experience to bear in providing Congress with the information it needs to fully appreciate the role of the AML program, its multifaceted benefits can be maintained and promoted now and into the future.”

Cavazza noted efforts to reclaim abandoned mine sites has significant bipartisan support.

He pointed to the Our Works Not Done website for information on the accomplishments of the program and the work yet to be done.

Nationwide there are nearly 1 million acres of high priority AML sites yet to be reclaimed at a estimated cost of $10 billion.  [About 250,000 of those acres are in Pennsylvania.]

Cavazza said there is also a need for a Good Samaritan Program, like Pennsylvania has, to worked with local community partners to reclaim abandoned mines they had no role in creating.

He also said state have accomplished much under the RECLAIM Pilot Program that prioritizes reclamation of abandoned mine land sites with economic development potential.  A proposal this year would provided $1 billion over 5 years for the federal AML Fund for this program.

Cavazza cautioned, however, that withdrawing too much funding from the AML Fund will have an impact on eliminating priority hazardous sites.

He concluded by saying, “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.”

Click Here for a copy of Cavazza’s written testimony.

Robert Hughes

Robert Hughes, Executive Director of the Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation, said “Pennsylvania is effectively riddled with abandoned mine lands and AMD sites that need to be cleaned up with continued bipartisan support since these landscapes and waterways show no concern for Congressional or municipal boundaries.

“In Northeastern PA, where the majority of the reclamation and AMD remediation needs to occur, we have to address the Chesapeake Bay restoration goal deficiencies, it is even more dire to work with PA partners at all levels to reclaim 14,562 acres of mining impacted areas by 2025, under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan.”

 He highlighted the fact that diverse partnerships in the EPCAMR Region lead to successful reclamation efforts.

“EPCAMR works closely with the Earth Conservancy (EC) on their mission and accomplishments. EC has reclaimed AML lands that have been recently sold to private companies that have come in to the area and sold the properties to major warehouse distribution companies like Chewy, Adidas, DHL Supply Chain Logistics to bring thousands of jobs to the area.”

He also pointed to the important role waste coal-fired power plants play in reclamation.

“Over 5,000 acres of mine-scarred lands were reclaimed by the ARIPPA [Appalachian Region Independent Power Producers Association] plants across PA, at no cost to PA taxpayers,” he said.  “Through ARIPPA’s reclamation efforts, streams recover, property values increase, and the reclaimed land is available for higher uses and can often become taxable parcels, bringing in much needed, local taxes to coalfield communities with a stagnant tax base.”

He also pointed to other EPCAMR initiatives, including--

-- Success under the RECLAIM Pilot Program (supporting its enactment);

-- Mine Pool Reuse and Alternative Energy Projects;

-- Iron Oxide Recovery Efforts From Mine Drainage;

-- Innovative 3D modeling of anthracite mine pools; and

-- Job Creation Opportunities and the Earth Conservancy's Workforce Development Training Program

"EPCAMR submits to you with my written testimony, for the record, several letters of support for the Reauthorization of the collection of the fees to continue to support the AML Trust Fund,” Hughes said.  “These letters of support emphasize job creation, economic investment, the importance of environmental cleanup, the protection of home ownership and businesses from mine subsidence, and public health and safety."

Click Here for a copy of Hughes’ written testimony.

Chris Wood

Chris Wood, President & CEO of Trout Unlimited, said, “Americans want clean water. Citizens of coal country want their polluted waters cleaned up. Trout Unlimited members give substantial amounts of their time and treasure to protecting and restoring trout watersheds, including abatement of abandoned mine pollution.

“But even a cursory look at the damages to our streams, rivers and groundwater caused by pollution from abandoned coal and hardrock mines show that we have a long way to go to achieve clean water for all.

“There is no better time than right now, as Congress and the Administration focus on infrastructure improvements, to view abandoned mine cleanup as a great example of jobs- producing, watershed-enhancing, natural infrastructure initiative.”

Wood noted Trout Unlimited has worked with watershed groups, state agencies and communities under the DEP Good Samaritan to conduct more than 250 abandoned coal mine pollution reduction projects in the state.

“Our experiences in Pennsylvania are illustrative of the positive effect of Good Samaritan cleanups. Over the past 20 years, Pennsylvania has seen an increase in abandoned mine reclamation projects by watershed groups, including TU,” explained Wood.  “This boom has been fueled by funding from the state’s Growing Greener grant program and the federal AML reclamation fund.

“Cleanup of abandoned coal mine pollution is a long-term job, and two major factors need to be addressed: 1.) long term funding, via AML reauthorization, and 2.) a Community Reclamation partnerships bill to aid Good Samaritan cleanup, are needed to get the job done,” said Wood.  “The AML fund is the lifeblood of funding for abandoned coal mine work in the coalfield areas of America, especially the East. Trout Unlimited and other stakeholders urge Congress to get started on the task of reauthorization now to ensure a smooth reauthorization is achieved by 2021. Such a valuable, complex law is worth the effort needed to make sure the critical funding is maintained.

“We and our partners can do a lot more if the AML Fund is reauthorized and the Good Samaritan problem is addressed,” Wood added. “Reauthorization of the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund Fee is one of the most important tasks on the Subcommittee’s agenda.”

Click Here for a copy of Wood’s testimony.

Click Here for copies of written testimony and to watch a video of the hearing.

A hearing was held by this Subcommittee in May of 2017 on similar legislation.

Click Here for more information on the expiration of the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fee, the RECLAIM Initiative and good samaritan legislation.

(Photo: Courtesy EPCAMR.)


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[Posted: March 29, 2019]


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