Apr 15, 2004

Mine Drainage Threatens Rivers

Tainted water that has been building up in coal mines in north-central West Virginia and western Pennsylvania is rising to the point where it will eventually pour into area streams, the Charleston Gazette reported.

Government reports have stated that hundreds of miles of streams already are polluted with acid mine drainage and toxic metals. Because of this, a national environmental group this week urged lawmakers to act to help address the problem before it’s too late.

On Tuesday, the conservation group American Rivers placed the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers on its 2004 Most Endangered Rivers list.

"We didn’t put the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers on our list to tell the world how bad the problem of pollution from abandoned mines is," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. "We put the rivers on our list to warn that this problem is about to get worse."

The Allegheny and Monongahela rivers drain most of western Pennsylvania, and they merge in downtown Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River.

American Rivers said that the two rivers contain the highest concentration of abandoned coal mines in the country.

A study that examined about half of the Pennsylvania watershed found 2,188 miles of streams polluted by mine drainage, the Charleston Gazette reported.

State regulators in West Virginia, the Gazette continued, last month listed 373 miles of similarly polluted waterways. But the West Virginia list does not include streams that have new, tougher pollution limits, but are still impaired by acid mine drainage, officials said.

Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell proposed an $800 million state bond issue for abandoned mine cleanups and other environmental restoration.

For the rest of the coalfields, American Rivers said it is vital that Congress extend a coal industry tax that pays for abandoned mine reclamation, the Gazette reported. That tax for the federal Abandoned Mine Land, or AML, program is set to expire Sept. 30.

"We would certainly agree that acid mine drainage is a critical problem affecting watersheds all over the coalfields," said Mike Gauldin, an OSM spokesman. "Reauthorization of the AML fee, we believe, is vitally important for achieving the goals of cleaning up the damage from past mining practices."