Hearings and Business Meetings
SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 10:00 AM
"Reauthorization of the Federal Abandoned Mine
Andrew S. McElwaine,
President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council
U.S. Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee
September 27, 2005
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, thank you for inviting
me to participate in today’s hearing. My name is Andrew McElwaine and I am
President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, a statewide
non-profit group that has offices throughout the state.
I am testifying on behalf of the Pennsylvania Abandoned Mine Land
Campaign, a coalition of over 200 Pennsylvania conservation groups,
including 150 watershed organizations from all Commonwealth coalfield
counties. Over the last two years, we have also worked with community
leaders from ten states in an effort to formulate recommendations that have the
broadest base of support.
I want to reiterate our profound appreciation for your interest in
working for an effective AML reauthorization. To be successful, the AMLF
reauthorization must combine necessary, predictable, mandatory funding
without compromising existing environmental laws.
It is essential to our state and others that the federal government extend
and reform the abandoned mine land reclamation program as I will describe in
my testimony. And of course an AMLF program that works to protect
communities and restore environments also produces jobs and creates
We hope that our expressions of support and caution, aimed at helping
you arrive at an agreement that truly works for communities in Pennsylvania
and the other coal producing states, can help you resolve outstanding issues
within the next few days.
Pennsylvania has the most abandoned mine land sites in the nation and
has been a leader in improving the quality of its environment after many years
In 1968, Pennsylvania passed the Land and Water Conservation and
Reclamation Act, a major initiative to address abandoned mine reclamation.
This act spurred Operation Scarlift, which was instituted to clean up the
damage caused by abandoned mines. It used a total of $141,000,000 to
complete 500 stream pollution abatement projects, extinguish 75 fires, remove 150 areas of
subsidence, and prevent air pollution at 30 sites of burning refuse banks.
Since that time, Pennsylvania has initiated several other programs that have provided
state funding for abandoned mine reclamation. Most recently, under Governor Ridge in 1999,
the state created its Growing Greener program which made available a substantial portion of
$500 million for reclamation and stream clean ups. In July of this year, Governor Rendell
signed into law Growing Greener II, which provides $625 million for stream clean ups and
other environmental improvements. At least $60 million will be available specifically for
AML related impacts.
Pennsylvania has also pursued an aggressive remining program, where the state has
formed partnerships with the private operators and citizen groups to maximize the use of
AML funds. DEP estimates that $950 million in federal and state money has been spent in
Pennsylvania to deal with abandoned mine problems. As indicated earlier, a substantial
portion of that funding came from state sources. We have adopted a strategic approach that
identifies those sites that are most dangerous or having the greatest environmental impact and
target our resources accordingly.
Remaining Environmental Problems
Despite our successes, significant environmental problems related to past mining
practices remain. The National Abandoned Mine Land Inventory lists for Pennsylvania over
$1 billion of Priority 1 and 2 sites. These numbers were calculated in the early 1980’s, nearly
a quarter century ago, and have not been adjusted for inflation.
These estimates reflect real problems. According to the US Department of Interior’s
Office of Surface Mining (OSM), since 1999, more than 40 people have drowned in mining
pits and quarries. At least 15 deaths, and many more injuries, have occurred during the same
time period in falls and ATV rollovers at quarries and pits. In the last year Pennsylvania saw
five more fatalities related to AML sites. Abandoned mine sites have left extensive dangerous
highwalls, open pits, coal refuse spoil piles, old mine openings, and more than 3,000 miles of
streams polluted by abandoned mine drainage. Past coal mining practices have led to erosion,
landslides, polluted water supplies, destruction of fish and wildlife habitat, and an overall
reduction in natural beauty.
The OSM reports that over 3.6 million people in the United States live within one mile
of Priority 1 & 2 Sites. More than half, just over 1.6 million of those listed, live in
Pennsylvania. (See Appendix A, which is taken from as white paper prepared on this topic by
OSM in 2003). People continue to die, local economies are stymied, and ongoing
environmental degradation is obvious to even casual observers. As is reflected in Appendix
B, over 184,000 acres in our state still need to be reclaimed. And, Pennsylvania is not alone;
other states face similar ongoing problems.
Overview of What We Seek:
Provided below are provisions that were crafted over a two year period in a
collaboration of coalfield community leaders from ten states:
· Funding for water (Abandoned Mine Drainage): Abandoned mines leak acidic,
alkaline, and metal-contaminated water, polluting public water supplies, destroying
fish and wildlife habitat, depressing local economies, and threatening human health
and safety. Pennsylvania is representative of eastern coal states with abandoned mine
drainage (AMD) problems, and abandoned mine drainage is the largest contributor to
water quality impairment in the Commonwealth. Over 3,000 miles of Pennsylvania’s
streams are impaired by AMD. It is critical that abandoned mine drainage
problems continue to be eligible for funding.
· Keep priorities 1, 2, and 3: Three priority areas are eligible for funding to correct
adverse effects of coal mining practices under Title IV. Priority 1 provides for the
protection of public health, safety, general welfare, and property from extreme danger.
Priority 2 provides for the protection of public health, safety, and general welfare.
Priority 3 provides for the restoration of degraded land and water resources and the
environment. States need to retain the discretion to use their allocations from the Fund
for projects falling into any of the three priorities. The current priorities should be
maintained, including the ability to fund water-related projects under Priorities 2
· Full allocation to states of future fees: As of June 30, 2005, the Fund has an
unappropriated balance of over $1.7 billion. The state share of this balance is
approximately $1.1 billion. (Pennsylvania maintains the fourth highest balance at
$58.4 million.) Future collections to the Fund should be fully allocated for their
intended purpose of cleaning up abandoned mine problems.
· Encourage redevelopment of abandoned mine lands: As abandoned mine lands
are reclaimed, they offer potential locations for economic development projects. By
developing and marketing abandoned mine lands that would normally struggle to
attract new investment, these "grayfields" can be turned into regional benefits by
creating economic opportunities, preventing sprawl, and conserving open space and
natural resources. For example, government facilities could be encouraged to locate
on these sites rather than on previously undeveloped green spaces. States should be
able to use Title IV funds in ways that promote reclamation, leverage private
investment, and, where it is appropriate, encourage redevelopment.
· Reformulation: Many states that fueled the coal boom in the early and middle part of
the last century currently have low coal production, yet they have the largest legacy of
adverse mining impacts from before 1977. Currently, the federal share of collected
monies is allocated based on 40% for current production, 40% on historic production,
and 20% to the Rural Abandoned Mine Land Program (RAMP). It has been damaging
to coalfield communities that RAMP has not been funded in the last eight fiscal years.
If RAMP is retained, then it should be funded through same off-budget structure as the
rest of the AML program. This will allow states with the most pre-1977 problems to
correct them much more quickly. The allocation formula should be changed to
60% historic and 40% current production.
· Take the program off-budget: Each fiscal year, the President and Congress must
appropriate monies from the fund as part of the federal budget process As a result,
the Fund is subject to political pressures and fiscal pressures from other federal
programs. The fees collected to the fund should be returned to states and tribes
without the need for appropriation each year, thus ensuring that the funds will be
used for their intended purposes. This would enable states to better plan strategic
multi-year AML reclamation projects.
· Increase the minimum program funding to $4 million: States which have
significant AML problems, but which have small AML programs, are supposed to be
guaranteed minimum funding of their programs by statutory mandate. Since 1990,
this funding has been set at $2 million. In many years, minimum program states have
received significantly less. Increasing this amount would help make up for past underfunding
and ensure that states with significant AML problems but low production
would be able to continue running effective programs. This potentially effects eleven
states. Annual funding for minimum program states should be raised to $4
· Non-primacy states should get a guaranteed minimum: States which do not have
their own coal regulatory programs are not eligible for a 50% share of funds collected
in the state or funding based on historic production. Federally managed (non-primacy
states) programs should be guaranteed minimum program funding if they demonstrate
the ability to operate an effective abandoned mine reclamation program. This would
enable a state like Tennessee to mitigate the damage in one decade instead of four.
· Maintain transfer of interest to the Combined Benefit Fund: Interest generated on
the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund is currently transferred to the Combined
Benefit Fund to defray health care costs for retired miners and their dependents whose
companies have gone bankrupt or are no longer in business. The CBF pays for health
care expenses remaining after Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement and pays for
prescription drugs. The transfer of interest to the Combined Benefit Fund should
continue with no fee reduction.
· Extend the end date: The scope of the abandoned mine problem continues to outpace
available resources. Based on current funding levels, projected future production, and
estimated costs of cleaning up inventoried sites, it will at least 15 years, potentially
more than 20 years to address abandoned mine problems. Extending the program 20
years would honor the intentions of the original law to unburden communities plagued
by unreclaimed coal mines. The program should be extended until at least 2025.
There are a number of provisions that my organization and the Pennsylvania coalition
believe are essential for AML reauthorization to protect coalfield communities and restore
damaged natural resources. First and foremost, we need to remember that this program was
originally created to address the significant environmental problems facing Pennsylvania and
other states. We should not lose sight of this, so we believe that reauthorization legislation
should do the following:
1. Off-budget mandatory assured funding of AML programs in historic production states.
2. The environmental provisions included in HR2721 should be incorporated within any
AML reauthorization legislation:
a. Minimum program states should receive $4million/year for the length of the
b. Mandatory payments to states should be made within 30 days of collection,
and no less frequently than semi-annually;
c. Allow full state discretion in utilization of state set-aside funds, with state setaside
funds increased from the current 10% to 30%;
d. Preserve Priorities 1, 2 and 3 -- essential for water quality restoration;
e. Remining: PEC supports remining because there have been many successful
projects, though we understand that it remains controversial within some
coalfield communities. In appendix C, we outline some of the conditions that
the coalition with which we are involved believes should accompany a
3. Keep AML reclamation fees at current levels with the current structure. In 1977, no
inflation factor was built into the fee, so while the costs of AML reclamation have
gone up significantly over the past 28 years, the fees have remained unchanged, and
now represent a much small fraction of both the cost of coal and the cost of
reclamation. Even with the fee unchanged, the program is not likely to collect enough
money to complete AML restoration within 15 years.
4. AML Reauthorization period should be no less than 15 years, 20 is needed, because in
past years so little AML money has been made available, so the restoration intended
by Congress has not actually been funded.
5. AML reauthorization legislation should specify that the source of funding for AML
programs should be AML reclamation fees
The legacy of past mining practices is still evident on the landscape and in the waters
of Pennsylvania and other states. It adversely impacts our safety, environmental quality,
economic viability, and overall quality of life. We have made progress, but our work is not
done. It is essential to our state and others that the federal government extend and reform the
abandoned mine land reclamation program. Our coalition believes strongly that the final
legislation should include the provisions that I have listed above. Our communities and
environmental quality depend on your action.
Again, thank you inviting me to testify. I am available to answer questions.