Commissioners back increase in mine reclamation activity, funding
By JIM RUNKLE - firstname.lastname@example.org
LOCK HAVEN — The Clinton County commissioners received the heartfelt
thanks of a regional environmental group Thursday for their recent
support of a resolution to increase fees on coal companies to feed
future mine reclamation activities.
A spokesman for the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine
Reclamation, Josh First, lauded the commissioners for their stand on
First said the refunding and reauthorization of the mine reclamation
fund has become a yearly effort just to extend the act, mostly because
the process has become mired in some hefty partisan politics.
First suggested a couple of strange bedfellows — the United Mineworkers
Union and the coal companies — have tried to stifle any steps toward a
more permanent solution.
He also lauded local U.S. Rep. John Peterson, R-Pleasantville, with
leading the charge at reauthorization, although he said the assemblyman
has been focused on other issues, of late.
And he offered some kind words for Sen. Rick Santorum for acting as a
bridge between the disparate groups struggling over the exact wording
of the law.
“We learned yesterday at 4:30 p.m. that the Senate and House have
granted a third extension of the current law, until June of 2007,”
The collection of fees on mined coal are applied to the Abandoned Mine
Reclamation Fund, which is has been extended twice before as a less
controversial option than full reauthorization, First said.
“It’s been a political slugfest,” he added.
The comments were part of a presentation by EPCAMR representatives
Michael Hewitt and Robert Hughes, who highlighted the benefits of a
recently created, massive, statewide “Breaks the Code” computer
database of mining information.
The information, compiled and correlated by EPCAMR from government
documents, is designed to compare, contrasts and retain data on
abandoned mines, cleanup activities, costs and priorities in
Pennsylvania, allowing it to become a valuable tool for organizations
concerned about issues like acid mine drainage and mine subsidence.
The ArcView-based database allows the information to be “layered” so
that when specifically mapped sites are examined, information on that
site is also accessed.
A file on a mine reclamation project in a specific community, for
example, would allow the user to view the status of the site whether
reclaimed or not reclaimed, financial reports on the costs of the
cleanup, the priority value of a site and the physical characteristics
of the site itself.
According to Hughes, the resulting maps give viewers an overhead look
at the problems, accurately represents the current status of the
project, and incorporates information gathered by state inspectors.
The reauthorization of the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program should
speed up the reclamation of thousands of hazardous abandoned coal mines
across the country, officials said.
Abandoned mines are commonplace throughout Appalachia, particularly in
states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia where the majority of
America’s coal was mined throughout the industrial revolution and two
Under the current AML program, mine reclamation dollars are raised
through a per-ton fee on coal and are allocated to states based on
their current level of coal production.
That presents a problem, officials said. State’s like Wyoming which
only recently began mining coal as the industry moved west have no
abandoned mine problems, so that state uses the millions of dollars
they receive from the AML program for construction, road paving and
other miscellaneous projects.
At the same time, states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia are still
decades away from completing reclamation work on thousands of hazardous
abandoned coal mines, First said.
BELLEFONTE — In the mid-1700s, Pennsylvania entrepreneurs began a rich
history of coal mining that some say helped fuel the Industrial
Revolution in the United States beginning with the Colonial Iron
Industry and followed by Andrew Carnegie’s booming steel mills during
the 1800s up to today’s more modern electrical and nuclear power
Today, Pennsylvania remains one of the largest coal producing states in
America, but many mines in Centre and Clinton Counties have since been
abandoned and are causing environmental problems for local streams and
As a result, the Centre County commissioners have adopted a resolution
re-authorizing the collection of fees to the Abandoned Mine Land
“The money we get is critical to the environmental health of the
state,” Josh First, president and CEO of Appalachian Land &
Conservation Services Co. told the commissioners Tuesday.
If the resolution is re-authorized on the state and federal levels,
Pennsylvania could receive as much as $35 million in funds to be put
towards cleaning up abandoned mine sites and restoring the
environmental beauty of those areas, he said.
“Pennsylvania has more abandoned mine lands than any other state,”
First said. “It’s our legacy that fueled the Industrial Revolution
that’s haunting us so much today.”
According to First, Pennsylvania has over 280,000 acres of abandoned
mine lands, which is larger than the total area of many cities and
towns in the state.
“We really need to show the state government that the folks on the
ground, like the county commissioners, really care,” First said. “They
really speak for the people probably better than anybody.”
According to First, Clinton County would be equally impacted by the
re-authorization of the reclamation fund due to the presence of
abandoned mines along the West Branch Susquehanna River.
“If you look at where all the major abandoned mine lands are, they’re
up in the headwaters of Clinton County and in the headwaters of the
West Branch, Clearfield and Centre County,” he said. “Most of the West
Branch runs through Clinton County and that has the potential to be a
huge tourism magnet when it’s opened up and once it becomes the fishing
mecca that it should be.”
Cleaning up abandoned mining areas, First says, would unlock the full
potential of the Clinton County recreational areas to include
activities like white water rafting, canoeing and kayaking.
But, once the funding is obtained, it could take up to 10 years to
thoroughly eradicate the environmental hazards caused by abandoned
mines in Clinton and Centre Counties.
In the mean time, First says his office has teamed up with Centre
County’s Internet Mapping Project coordinators to post maps of the mine
In other business, the Centre County Commissioners:
Tabled approval of the elections contract between the county and
Elections Systems & Software to provide the county with optical
scan and iVotronic ADA voting units until the solicitor reviews the
Commissioner Chris Exarchos said “the machines are in transit” and are
expected to arrive in the county by the end of this week or early next
Although the county does not yet have posession of all the machines
needed for primary election day, Exarchos said they have received
sample machines, which citizens are welcome to test before the election.
Renewed a contract between the county and Bald Eagle Area School
District to support tobacco prevention and cessation activities for
students, implement evidence-based curriculum and support these efforts
through Centre County Communities That Care.
The contract for Drug Free Communities is set for the period of Oct. 1,
2005 through Sept. 30, 2006.
The tobacco and earmark is set for the period of July 1, 2005 through
June 30, 2006.
The contract total is $62,236 with $1,950 coming from the state and
$60,236 being garnered from federal funds.
Approved a contract addendum between the county and the Bellefonte Area
School District providing funding for the support and implementation of
evidence-based drug and alcohol prevention curriculum in the schools.
This addendum increases the maximum re-imbursement from $5,000 to
$18,550 for the period of July 1, 2005 through June 30, 2006.
Approved a contract between the county and the Department of Community
and Economic Development for the Internet Mapping Project, which
provides detailed images of various forms of Pennsylvania maps
including state parks and recreational areas.
The contract which runs from July 1, 2005 through June 30, 2008, totals
$25,000 with funds provided through the department’s 2005 Shared
Municipal Services Program.