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Appalachian Obtains Counties' Support for Abandoned Mine Reclamation Reauthorization

April 30, 2006

Clinton Commissioners back increase in mine reclamation activity, funding

By Jim Runkle
The Express - Lockhaven, PA

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 the issue.

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,” First said.

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 world wars.

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.


Centre County looks toward mine reclamation
By Tara Henry
The Express - Lockhaven, PA

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 plants.

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 national parks.

As a result, the Centre County commissioners have adopted a resolution re-authorizing the collection of fees to the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund.

“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 land areas.

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 document.

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 week.

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.
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Phone: (717) 232-8335