July 18, 2008

Pennsylvania to Commit Federal Abandoned Mine Lands Funding to Mine Drainage Cleanup


Contact: Tom Rathbun of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, +1-717-787-1323

DEP Proposes to Use Full 30 Percent Set Aside to Support Mine Drainage TreatmentSystems

HARRISBURG, Pa.,July 18/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Department of Environmental Protection announced today that it plans to direct the full amount allowed by the federal government to develop and operate mine drainage treatment systems that are needed to protect thousands of miles of streams, according to Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty.

McGinty also said the commonwealth has already established an account dedicated to finance the permanent maintenance costs for these treatment facilities and will commit additional funds annually. The department has already deposited $2 million into the account and expects to contribute another $2 million this year.

Acid mine drainage impairs 4,600 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania and is one of the most widespread and expensive water pollution challenges we face, said McGinty. The reauthorization of the Abandoned Mine Lands fund will allow us to support the outstanding efforts of local watershed groups to build new treatment facilities that will bring dead streams back to life, and it will also ensure that we have sufficient resources to fund the long-term operation, maintenance and replacement of new and existing treatment facilities unless special circumstances prevent us from doing so.

Pennsylvanias long-term plans for addressing abandoned mine problems are outlined in a position paper DEP released today that is available on its homepage: www.depweb.state.pa.us.

The paper details how the state will allocate the estimated $1.4 billion it expects to receive over the next 15 years as part of the 2006 reauthorization of the federal Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) fund. It also provides the framework for how the funds will be distributed through grants and construction contracts for the design, construction, operation, maintenance and replacement of facilities to treat mine discharges.

Under the reauthorization, Pennsylvania may commit up to 30 percent of its annual appropriation to treat abandoned mine drainage.

The process to decide the annual amount to be set aside for treatment of mine drainage will be open for public comment.

In preparing the paper, DEP conducted a series of town hall meetings with state and local elected officials, environmental and watershed groups, the mining industry, businesses, and economic development organizations to update the commonwealths long-term mine reclamation goals to take full advantage of the anticipated funds.

The need for continued funds to build mine drainage treatment facilities was a clear theme in the comments we received during our town hall meetings, said McGinty. Beyond the obvious impacts on aquatic life, polluted streams cost the commonwealth millions of dollars in lost recreation and tourism opportunities and increase costs for industrial, commercial and residential water users.

The reauthorization of the federal AML fund gives us a unique opportunity to ensure significant and long-term funding for the development, operation and replacement of mine drainage treatment facilities.

The Abandoned Mine Lands fund was created in 1977 and directs money to states to reclaim historic abandoned mines. The program is funded by a tax on the coal mining industry.

Pennsylvania is home to thousands of acidic discharges and seeps formed from a chemical reaction between air, water and coal in abandoned mines.

More than 250 passive treatment systems have been constructed with public funds to treat an estimated 36 billion gallons of acid mine drainage each year. Ongoing operation, maintenance and replacement costs vary depending on the volume of water and the severity of the chemical composition of each discharge.

Since 2005, DEP has awarded more than $4 million in Innovative Technology Grants to develop cost-effective industrial applications that will turn the drainage problem into an opportunity for economic development and help ease the annual treatment burden on taxpayers.

The grants were funded with a mix of federal AML funds and Governor Edward G. Rendells Growing Greener II initiative, which has dedicated more than $7 million to 33 projects that will restore watersheds and streams affected by abandoned mines and mine drainage.

These projects are using innovative ideas such as self-flushing limestone systems, using iron oxide sludges to remove phosphorous from municipal waste systems, using steel slag for acid mine drainage treatment, and combining and improving the performance of passive treatment facilities.

Since Governor Rendell took office in 2003, DEPs Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation has committed more than $145 million to 242 projects across Pennsylvania, reclaiming more than 5,900 acres. However, Pennsylvania still has approximately 180,000 acres of unmarked mine openings, unstable cliffs, water-filled pits and abandoned equipment and buildings left over from when mining was largely unregulated prior to 1977.

More than 2 billion tons of waste coal sits in piles that dot the states landscape, and some 4,600 miles of rivers and streams are polluted or degraded by acid mine drainage.

For more information, visit www.depweb.state.pa.us, keyword: Abandoned Mines.

CONTACT:Tom Rathbun

(717) 787-1323

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

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