August 13, 2008

PA DEP’s Top Mine Official Outlines State’s Planned Use of Federal Mine Funds to Reclaim Land, Improve Water Quality

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., Aug. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A top Department of Environmental Protection official today outlined the details of a plan for Pennsylvania to fully capitalize on an opportunity to reclaim abandoned mines and improve water quality.

Speaking before more than 200 representatives of the mining industry, environmental groups and the federal government attending the 10th annual Pennsylvania Abandoned Mine Reclamation Conference, DEP Deputy Secretary for Mineral Resources Management J. Scott Roberts laid out the details of a position paper issued last month that said the state plans to support the construction and long-term operation and maintenance of abandoned mine drainage treatment facilities.

The commonwealth expects to receive $1.4 billion over the next 15 years as part of the federal Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) fund, which was reauthorized in 2006. As part of the reauthorization, Congress allowed states to use up to 30 percent of its annual AML appropriation to treat abandoned mine drainage.

"The unregulated mining practices of the past have left us with thousands of acres of abandoned mine lands that endanger our residents and pollute three of the largest river basins in the United States," said Roberts. "We cannot, however, allow these legacy issues and consequences of that past to impede the growth and detract from the quality of life in our former mining communities.

"Over the next 15 years, we expect to reshape more than just our landscape. We plan to restore many of Pennsylvania's impaired waterways so that nearby residents and visitors can enjoy them and we're going to turn these scarred lands into opportunities for economic development."

Roberts said $2 million was set aside in an account last year to address mine drainage issues throughout the state and DEP plans to contribute another $2 million this year.

"We have been given an historic opportunity to develop long-term plans to prioritize and reclaim the most dangerous abandoned sites and treat acid mine discharges that pollute and degrade more than 4,600 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania," said Roberts.

Since Governor Edward G. Rendell took office in 2003, DEP's 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 the nation's largest abandoned mine problem with 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.

The Abandoned Mine Lands fund was created by Congress in 1977 and is funded by a fee on the amount of coal produced by the mining industry.

Abandoned mines have created thousands of acidic discharges and seeps that are formed from a chemical reaction between air, water and coal.

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.

Also speaking at the conference today was Steve L. Smith, head of land reclamation for the Welsh government in the United Kingdom. Smith presented "The Industrial Legacy of Wales -- From Blight to Asset," which outlined how public sector investment exceeding $900 million has helped to reclaim and restore approximately 27,000 acres of despoiled and hazardous land at more than 1,000 sites in Wales.

During his remarks, Smith said the challenges faced in Wales mirrored those in Pennsylvania and that the two governments could mutually benefit from their experiences.

"We have lengthy experience reclaiming our former mine lands in Wales and we are pleased to support Pennsylvania with the benefits of what we've learned over the past 40 years," said Smith. "Similarly, I am meeting people here with a broad range of expertise and experience and I hope to apply what we learn here to the abandoned mine challenges we still face in Wales. I am impressed with Pennsylvania's commitment to working with your stakeholders to reclaim your former mine lands."

The 10th Annual Abandoned Mine Reclamation Conference draws state and federal regulators, entrepreneurs and environmental organizations from Pennsylvania and neighboring states. The conference runs through Thursday.

The position paper outlining Pennsylvania's plan for AML funds and information on abandoned mine reclamation work in the state is available at

CONTACT: Tom Rathbun

(717) 787-1323

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

CONTACT: Tom Rathbun of the Pennsylvania Department of EnvironmentalProtection, +1-717-787-1323

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