June 16, 2008

Coalition Urges Senators Specter and Casey to Protect Funds to Clean Up Dangerous Abandoned Mine Land

The Pennsylvania AML Campaign, a coalition of 200 conservation and community organizations, today called on United States Senators Arlen Specter and Robert Casey, Jr., to protect the law which requires the coal industry to pay into a federal fund dedicated to helping Pennsylvania and other states clean up dangerous and polluting abandoned mine lands. This request comes as the Senate is set to vote on cloture to consider HR 6049, already passed by the House of Representatives, which includes Section 114, which could endanger some of the badly needed clean up funds.

Regardless of how our Pennsylvania senators vote on cloture this afternoon, any bill that passes Congress must remove deliberately misleading language which would enable the coal industry to avoid meeting its obligations under SMCRA -- the Surface Mine Control & Reclamation Act -- which has been in effect for 31 years, requiring a per ton fee paid into the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund.

R. John Dawes, Co-Chair of the PA AML Campaign, said, "The coal industry sued to stop paying the clean up funds on exported coal, and lost in a unanimous decision by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Now, the industry is attempting to slip through an amendment that could let the mining industry reduce its responsibilities to clean up abandoned coal mines. We hope Senators Specter and Casey will vote to stop this attempt, and make sure that Pennsylvanians and other Americans continue to receive the funds needed to clean up dangerous abandoned mine land."

Nearly 1.4 million Pennsylvanians live within a mile of an abandoned mine land site, with at least 44 counties affected by abandoned coal mines. Pennsylvania's landscape is scarred with over 5,000 documented abandoned mine sites - encompassing more than 250,000 acres. Acidic drainage from these abandoned mines has resulted in 4,600 miles of biologically dead streams.

These sites are often dangerous, with high walls and cliffs, flooded pits and open mine mouths creating hazards that can maim or kill. In 2004, then U.S. Interior Department estimated that least 45 deaths and 19 injuries at abandoned mine sites have occurred just in the anthracite mine region of Pennsylvania in the past 30 years.

Although Pennsylvania leads the nation in carrying out successful new strategies to clean up abandoned mine lands, the enormity of the problem is staggering. As of February 2006, Pennsylvania's costs for protecting the public from damage caused by mines the coal industry closed but failed to clean up are at least $15 billion, according to calculations of the state's Department of Environmental Protection.

In December, 2006, a law took effect under which the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is likely to receive nearly $1.4 billion over the next 15 years to work on the most dangerous and polluting of the abandoned mine lands. A fee on each ton of coal currently produced in the U.S. funds the cleanup.

"The coal industry wants an exemption for coal mined in the U.S., but exported to other countries," said Cynthia Carrow, Co-Chair of the Campaign. "That is simply ludicrous. The children dying in dangerous old mines and the poisoned waterways are here in Pennsylvania and in other regions of the U.S. where industry extracts the coal. The court very clearly held that to stop these threats to public safety and the environment, the coal industry must pay fees on the amount of coal mined in the United States, not the amount of coal used domestically. This is no time to change the rules. Reducing the coal industry's obligation to clean up its own legacy of pollution would require new state or federal taxes to fund the program that restores our communities and saves our children. We urge our senators to protect Pennsylvania by stopping this attempt."