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The scope of the AMD problem

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, Governor
Department of Environmental Protection, James Seif, Secretary
Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation:
Pennsylvania's Reclamation Program

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation (Bureau) administers the abandoned mine lands (AML) reclamation program in Pennsylvania.

Each year the Bureau receives more than 800 requests for assistance with potential abandoned mine problems. Most of these requests are from private property owners. Each request is investigated to determine the seriousness of the problem and to determine if the site is eligible for funding. Only high priority sites can be funded. Approximately 30% of these requests are eligible for abatement through reclamation work conducted by the Bureau. Funding for a project is dependent upon a number of factors, including:

  • A determination that the problem is caused by abandoned mine conditions.
  • A finding that the abandoned mine land problem is hazardous to people or the environment. (Federal funds are available to address only high priority problems affecting health, safety and general welfare.)
  • A determination that reclamation is technologically and economically feasible.
  • No one else has continuing reclamation responsibility under state or federal laws.

Why Is There A Need For Mine Reclamation?
Pennsylvania has been a leading producer of coal since the mid-1800's, when coal was "king". Coal from Pennsylvania's mines spurred railroad development, created employment, heated most homes and businesses and served as a vital material for the state's flourishing steel mills. Before 1977, when Congress passed the Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), Pennsylvania had produced one-third of all coal mined in the United States.

Unfortunately, the past underregulated mining of a valuable natural and economic resource left open pits, coal refuse and spoil piles, acid mine drainage (AMD), dangerous highwalls, open shafts, erosion, clogged stream channels, undermined areas with subsidence potential, underground fires, and dilapidated buildings. These abandoned mine land problems dot the landscape in 45 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. Many of these abandoned mines have severely degraded the quality of surrounding land and water and pose hazards to Pennsylvania's citizens.

Pennsylvania has a legacy of approximately $15 billion in abandoned mine land problems. The state was left with an estimated 2,500 miles of streams polluted by acid mine drainage; 250,000 acres of unreclaimed surface mine land; 100 million cubic feet of burning coal refuse; and potential subsidence problems for hundreds of thousands of acres.

What Types of Reclamation Projects Are Conducted Within Pennsylvania?

Reclamation projects completed in Pennsylvania include closing and backfilling mine openings, backfilling open pits, eliminating dangerous highwalls and extinguishing or stopping the advancement of underground and refuse bank fires. The state also constructs projects to control subsidence, treat acid mine drainage, reestablish stream channels, remove dilapidated buildings and equipment and grade and revegetate abandoned mine sites.

Contracted and In-House Reclamation Projects
For large projects, the Bureau develops preliminary project scopes and cost estimates, determines property ownership and secures necessary funding. Design is then initiated and rights of entry are secured from all affected property owners. The project is then competitively bid and a construction contract is awarded by DEP to the lowest responsible bidder. For small projects, the Bureau's in-house construction personnel and equipment will do the work. This simplifies the entire process and results in the problem being abated in a more timely manner.

Funding for Mine Reclamation
There are two basic funding sources used for AML reclamation:

  • Title IV of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), a federal grants program available from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM). Funds are provided to DEP from OSM through Title IV of SMCRA to reclaim eligible high priority abandoned mines. A problem is eligible for funding if it resulted from pre-August 3, 1977 mining.

    Active coal operators pay a 35-cents-per-ton fee for each ton of surface-mined coal and 15-cents-per-ton of deep mined coal to pay for the federal program.

    Funding levels for the program each year depend upon the US Department of the Interior's annual appropriation from Congress. In recent years, Pennsylvania has received an average of $20 million.

    The three major priorities of the SMCRA program on which funds can be spent are defined as follows:
    • Emergencies - An emergency is a situation that occurs suddenly, is life-threatening and demands immediate attention. Typical emergencies include subsidence, methane gas leaks and recently ignited mine refuse fires.
    • Priority 1 - Protection of public health, safety and general welfare and property from extreme danger of adverse effects of coal mining practices. Extreme danger is defined as a condition that could be expected to cause substantial physical harm to persons, property or the environment, and to which persons or improvements on the property are exposed.
    • Priority 2 - The protection of public health, safety and general welfare from adverse effects of coal mining practices.
      Additionally, the department can set aside up to 10% annually from Title IV allocations for abatement of acid mine drainage problems resulting from eligible mining operations.

  • Forfeited Reclamation Bonds.
    All mining operators are required to obtain permits from the Department and to post bonds to ensure reclamation of the mine site. If an operator fails to reclaim a site, the bonds are forfeited and the Bureau uses the money to reclaim the mined area to its required standards.

    The Benefits of Abandoned Mine Reclamation
    Reclamation eliminates hazards to the health, safety and general welfare of Pennsylvania citizens living and working near these sites. Many of these abandoned mines are located in or near residential areas, schools and hospitals and have become dangerous attractions for children and dumping grounds for garbage.

    The environmental benefits realized from AML reclamation are numerous and significant, including restoring land for future use and improving water quality. Restoration of the land can result in increased pasture land and recreational areas. Wildlife habitat also is enhanced.
    The economic benefits of reclamation also are very important. It is estimated that for every million dollars spent for AML construction contracts, about 27 people are employed directly or indirectly. In addition, nearly every such contract is with a Pennsylvania company employing Pennsylvania labor.

What Has Been Done?
The federal AML program under SMCRA is scheduled to expire in 2004. So far, Pennsylvania has put only a small dent in it's $15 billion AML problem. With current funding levels from all sources, DEP estimates that it will take more than 50 years to eliminate just the high-priority AML hazards in Pennsylvania.

Since 1978, a total of 1,006 reclamation projects involving 21,193 acres have been undertaken at a cost of $270,323,580. Since 1992, when the Bureau began documenting environmental enhancements, 88 wetland projects were constructed involving 125 acres. Also, 811 acres of trees were planted, 268 brush piles, stone piles and windrows were created to improve wildlife habitat, and a total of 73,742 linear feet of stream channels were enhanced or recreated by the Bureau.

In addition to the projects undertaken by contractors, there have been 218 in-house construction projects completed by the Anthracite District/Bituminous District (AD/BD) construction crews. These in-house projects involved 55 acres at a total cost of $527,230.
As of November 12, 1996, the Bureau has reclaimed, restored or eliminated the following hazards under Title IV of SMCRA at a cost of approximately $243,000,000:
  • 450,715 linear feet of dangerous highwalls
  • 28.8 miles of clogged streams
  • 42 dangerous impoundments
  • 213 portals
  • 2,263 acres of subsidence
  • 814.7 acres of underground mine fires
  • 363 vertical openings


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