Mine drainage treatment plant construction breaks ground in Pennsylvania

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• Mine reclamation program makes significant progress in 2009

HARRISBURG, PA, March 4, 2010 -- Pennsylvania's mine reclamation program made dramatic progress in 2009 by reclaiming abandoned sites that threaten health and safety and restoring streams poisoned by mine drainage, according to Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger.

Among the most significant achievements in the past year were contracts the department issued to reclaim nearly nine miles of dangerous highwalls and to break ground for a mine drainage treatment plant that will restore life to more than 35 miles of the West Branch Susquehanna River.

"Pennsylvania's mineral resources helped turn America into an industrial superpower, but the unregulated mining practices of the past have left us with the largest abandoned mine lands problem in the nation," Hanger said. "Through the tireless efforts of volunteers and the judicious use of our limited funding sources, we have made considerable progress in the past year reclaiming the most dangerous sites and restoring life to long-dead streams in former mining communities."

Pennsylvania has approximately 180,000 acres of abandoned mine lands, some dating back to the 1700s. More than two billion tons of waste coal sits in piles across the state and mine drainage is the largest source of water pollution in the state, degrading 5,500 miles of rivers and streams.

The largest source of funding for the reclamation of mine sites in Pennsylvania is the federal Abandoned Mine Lands Fund, which is overseen by the U. S. Office of Surface Mining. The fund is supported by a tax on the modern mining industry and is distributed to states as annual grants to reclaim mine sites that were abandoned prior to passage of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.

Governor Rendell was instrumental in working with Congress and other coal mining states to extend abandoned mine funds for another 15 years. Pennsylvania will receive nearly $44 million from the fund in 2010 and is projected to receive a total of $1.1 billion by 2022.

In Pennsylvania, the fund is administered by DEP's Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation, which awarded 20 contracts worth more than $21 million in 2009 to reclaim 630 acres of abandoned mine lands, reclaim 39,850 feet of dangerous highwalls, backfill mineshafts, demolish abandoned structures, and fill hazardous water bodies. Three projects will extend public water lines into communities where private wells and springs were polluted by mine drainage.

States were also authorized to set aside up to 30 percent of each annual grant to address acid mine discharges when Congress extended the abandoned mine fund. Pennsylvania is using this money to create a mine drainage trust fund to finance construction and long-term operation and maintenance costs for hundreds of necessary mine drainage treatment facilities statewide.

The department used those funds to break ground on mine drainage treatment systems in the headwaters of the West Branch Susquehanna River in Cambria County and the Indian Creek in Fayette County. These systems will treat more than 10 million gallons of mine drainage each day, improving water quality in these long-dead streams, and creating recreational and economic opportunities for downstream communities.

Statewide, mine drainage treatment systems treat 40 billion gallons annually.

In 2009, the department also awarded 28 Growing Greener grants worth $5.8 million to local watershed groups, conservation districts and other entities to address mine drainage projects that will address pollution and restore life to dead streams. Many of these projects are undertaken by volunteer organizations.

DEP's Bureau of District Mining Operations, which oversees active mining operations in the state, manages innovative programs to encourage modern coal companies to reopen abandoned mines that still contain mineable coal reserves and complete reclamation at no cost to the taxpayers. In 2009, 11 such mining contracts were awarded to reclaim 123.5 acres of abandoned mine lands and eliminate 6,950 feet of dangerous highwall. The value of these projects to the commonwealth in 2009 was $547,660.

District mining offices also used more than $1.6 million in forfeited reclamation bonds to finance cleanup at five abandoned sites. These bonds are posted by mining companies to cover the cost of reclaiming mine sites if the company is unable or unwilling to complete site restoration once mining is finished.

For more information on these programs and other mine reclamation and mine drainage treatment efforts, visit www.depweb.state.pa.us.

See the list, by county, of the abandoned mine reclamation and acid mine drainage remediation projects awarded in 2009 >

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