John Dawes, Executive Director of the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, testified Wednesday before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources to urge Congress to reauthorize the collection of a federal fee assessed on each ton of coal mined until 2036.
This fee funds the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund which pays for continued cleanup of coal mining’s legacy of scarred landscapes and polluted streams. Without Congressional reauthorization, the fee will expire in 2021.
Pennsylvania has 180,000 acres of mine-scarred land and 5,500 miles of mine polluted streams, more than any other state in the nation.
In his testimony, Dawes stated, “Reauthorization of the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund Fee (AMRF) is important to protect our communities and families from hazards posed by coal mines abandoned before 1977. The Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund is the primary source of money available to states and tribes to fix these problems. We have successfully used the fund to clean up toxic mine water, extinguish mine fires, and eliminate other dangerous abandoned mine hazards.”
Dawes emphasized that abandoned mine land and water reclamation projects create jobs, and cited a project in Ehrenfeld, Cambria County as a prime example.
“The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection contracted with Rosebud Mining for reclamation services,” he said. “Under this 36-month contract of approximately $13.5M, Rosebud called back 40 furloughed miners.”
Dawes also highlighted the kinds of local jobs that support such projects including engineering and consulting services, general construction, concrete manufacturing, metal fabrication, hauling and disposal services, utility services, landscaping, concrete manufacturing and more.
Dawes presented recommendations for improvements to the Fund that are supported by the Pennsylvania Abandoned Mine Lands Campaign including:
-- Restructuring the fee so that underground mines pay a fair fee;
-- Raising annual funding to states to a minimum of $5 million;
-- Exempt Abandoned Mine Reclamation funding from budget sequestration and refund moneys affected by sequestration since 2013;
-- Approve a line-item in the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation Enforcement to allow it to deal with emergency funding;
-- Continue mandatory fund distribution to the states;
-- Maintain the 30 percent set-aside for cleaning up acid mine polluted streams;
-- Continue transferring interest earned on the fund to the Combined Benefit Fund to help defray the cost of retired coal miners health care;
-- Reaffirm support for the Watershed Cooperative Agreement Program with makes AMRF funds directly available to local non-profit organizations for local stream restoration projects;
-- Ensure funding remains available to clean up abandoned mine drainage problems; and
-- Encourage the redevelopment of restored mine land.
Dawes pointed out that it is critical for Congress to reauthorize the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation fee as soon as possible.
The last reauthorization took several years as policy-makers crafted a deal between states that have largely cleaned up their abandoned mine lands and those which still have billions of dollars of reclamation work to do.
States and coal impacted communities need the commitment from Congress to make multi-year plans to revitalize damaged land, water and communities and to bring more than promises to these neglected regions of Pennsylvania.
“Failure to act continues a cycle of depressed economies and unemployment while exposing our communities and families to health and safety hazards,” said Dawes. “Congress needs to act now, and hopefully before the end of this Congress, to reauthorize the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund fee collection.”
Click Here to watch a video of the hearing and for written testimony.
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