The PA AML Coalition, a group of over 200 Pennsylvania conservation organizations, called on the U.S. Congress to extend the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program until the job of cleaning up streams and water supplies polluted by abandoned mines is finished.
Andrew S. McElwaine, president & CEO of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, presented the Coalition's comments at a hearing by the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
"Pennsylvania alone has over 184,000 acres of abandoned mine sites that present public safety and health hazards, the most of any state in the nation," said McElwaine. "Since 1999 more than 55 people have drowned in mining pits and quarries or riding over abandoned mines on ATVs. We have over 2,200 miles of streams polluted by drainage from abandoned mines which cannot sustain aquatic life or serve as water supplies."
State agencies and watershed groups have spent nearly $500 million in state funds since the 1970s to cleanup abandoned mines and recently the Growing Greener II initiative was approved by voters to spend an additional $60 million.
"Of the $950 million in state and federal dollars spent on abandoned mine reclamation in Pennsylvania, nearly half came from state and private sources," said McElwaine. "Pennsylvania is also doing our part by giving the current coal industry incentives to go back and re-mine abandoned areas and promoting other innovative solutions like treating polluted mine water for cooling at power plants to bring more private sector resources into solving this problem."
Federal mine reclamation programs are funded by fees on coal production - 35 cents per ton on surface mined coal and 15 cents per ton on coal from underground mines - which have been temporarily extended three times over the
"Congress needs to provide reliable funding to finish the job they started in 1977 by assuring states they will be a real partner in cleaning up abandoned mines," said McElwaine. "Instead of annual battles and temporary extensions, Congress should make the commitment to reauthorize reclamation funding until at least abandoned mine sites that are unsafe or threaten public health are cleaned up. Our streams and water supplies can't wait."
The PA AML Campaign is recommending these changes-
--Commit to reauthorizing federal reclamation funding at least until all Priority 1 (safety) and 2 (public health) sites are cleaned up - within 20 years - and provide a program to fund Priority 3 (degraded lands);
--Allocate funding to states based on historic coal production levels so that states with the most abandoned mine problems receive the most funding;
--Fully appropriate the $1.4 billion that is now sitting in the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to support state and federal reclamation efforts;
--Reclamation fees collected by the AMR Fund should be sent directly to the states under a funding formula without need for an annual appropriation; and
--Fund the Combined Benefit Fund with the interest generated by the AMR Fund so health care benefits continue for retired miners and their families.
"The PA AML Coalition is grateful for the support of Pennsylvania's entire Congressional Delegation, in particular U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, Congressmen John Peterson and John Murtha and U.S. Senator Rick Santorum as well as Gov. Ed Rendell and the Pennsylvania General Assembly, in reauthorizing federal reclamation funding," said McElwaine. "I'm also proud the Pennsylvania Environmental Council could represent the AML Coalition at the Senate hearing."
For a copy of the testimony and more information, go PA AML Coalition website at http://www.amlcampaign.org  .