$26 Million Mine Cleanup Plan Seen as Blueprint

The Interior Department is spending $26 million to clean up an abandoned mine site and help trigger economic growth in western Pennsylvania, agency officials said Aug. 4.

The department said it sees the project as a jumping-off point for future efforts, similar to those envisioned in the Obama administration's Power+ Plan and the RECLAIM Act sponsored by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), both of which have stalled.

The three-year project will turn 2.4 million yards of coal waste in Ehrenfeld, Pa., into backfill for abandoned coal mine pits. That land will then be regraded, reseeded and mulched to promote the growth of new vegetation, Interior said.

Economic Opportunities Eyed

The project includes plans for a parking area that will allow hikers and bikers to more easily access a National Park Service trail. The parking plan will also bring economic opportunities to the area, according to Interior.

Of the project's $26 million budget, $3.5 million is set aside for pilot project funding, with the remainder being used for land reclamation.

In its current state, acid drainage from the Ehrenfeld site leaks into the Little Conemaugh River, and a five-acre section of the waste that had been burning has degraded air quality, DOI said. Moreover, 150 residences are located within 500 feet of the waste pile. One home is only 20 feet away.

“While there are no silver bullets for solving the environmental and economic difficulties in Appalachia or other struggling coal regions in the United States, we have a moral commitment to assist hardworking and increasingly hard-pressed coal country residents in transitioning to a more sustainable economic future,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. “The Ehrenfeld project is one example of how we can work together to make strong and smart investments in coal communities that not only put people back to work but restore our lands and waters to benefit the health and well-being of these communities.”

First Outgrowth of AMLER Program

The Ehrenfeld effort is the first outgrowth of a larger program, known as the Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) Pilot Program, that provides $30 million each to Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky for reclamation and economic development.

Congress approved AMLER in late 2015 as part of the 2016 omnibus spending bill.

When Pennsylvania's entire $30 million disbursement is spent, that money is expected to generate $123 million in economic development benefits, Interior said. Projects will include new roads, new water lines, reconfigured historic mine shafts and expanded infrastructure.

Both the Power+ Plan and the RECLAIM Act propose $1 billion to states over five years from the existing abandoned mine land fund to promote job growth and economic redevelopment, while simultaneously reclaiming old mines.

68-Year Mining Legacy

Ehrenfeld, located 70 miles east of Pittsburgh, is home to an underground mine that operated from 1903 to 1971.

“Smart, sustained, collaborative investment in coal country makes a real difference in people's lives—in the well-being and prosperity of communities,” said Joe Pizarchik, head of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which will manage the pilot project grants. “The men and women who worked in the coalfields were there for our country in good times and bad; now our country should be there for them. Sustaining our efforts and accelerating investments will help meet these vital obligations.”

For More Information

The text of the RECLAIM Act (H.R. 4456) is available at https://www.congress.gov/114/bills/hr4456/BILLS-114hr4456ih.pdf .

More information on the Power+ Plan is available at http://src.bna.com/hta .

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