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State Secures $244M for Abandoned Mines

Funding from Biden Administration will pay for cleanup efforts

By Danielle M. Smith - Public News Service
The Tube City Almanac
July 02, 2024
Posted in: State & Region

Editor’s Note: This story was written by Danielle Smith of Keystone State News Service with additional reporting from Tube City Almanac.

The state Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation received a national award for its cleanup work regarding approximately 27 acres of coal refuse piles in Cambria County, which posed multiple environmental threats to the area. (Photo courtesy state Department of Environmental Protection)

Pennsylvania will receive $244 million this year to clean up the pollution left over from decades of coal mining.

The money is part of $725 million in abandoned mine cleanup funding the Biden administration is providing to more than two dozen states. Pennsylvania has more abandoned coal mines than any other state in the country, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. About 1.4 million Pennsylvanians live within one mile of an abandoned mine.

The most recent funding is the third installment of more than $11 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for cleaning up environmental hazards and pollution by past coal mining operations, aligning with President Joe Biden’s environmental justice initiatives.

“Remediation of abandoned mine lands is critical for the health, safety, and well-being of communities across Pennsylvania,” said Jessica Shirley, acting state secretary of environmental protection. “With this federal funding, we will be able to continue this vital work that protects public health and safety, and put reclaimed land to good use with eligible economic development initiatives.”

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, more than 5,000 miles of streams in Pennsylvania are impacted by acid mine drainage from abandoned mining sites. Toxic chemicals from mines can harm water sources and result in issues like erosion, DEP said.

The Stineman Refuse project in South Fork Borough removed coal wash piles along the Path of the Flood Trail, creating a safer walking trail and expanding recreation opportunities along the South Fork Little Conemaugh River. (Photo courtesy state Department of Environmental Protection)

With the support of federal and state funding, Pennsylvania has already rehabilitated 150,000 acres of abandoned mine lands, a spokesperson said.

Eligible projects will need to comply with state and federal guidelines and can include outdoor recreation or conservation plans and industrial improvements.

Applicants must either be municipal or county agencies or registered non-profits that have environmental missions, such as conservation or watershed improvement organizations. Details are available DEP’s Abandoned Mine Lands & Acid Mine Drainage Grant Program page.

DEP said previous projects have included public parks, new waterlines to ensure clean and safe water, and recreational trails for fishing and biking.

Eric Dixon, senior researcher for the Ohio River Valley Institute, said the funding is expected to create jobs in rural Pennsylvania, while reclaiming abandoned mine lands and addressing mining site hazards and environmental pollution.

“The Biden administration has called for these remediation jobs to be good-quality, union jobs,” Dixon said. “We’ve started to see some of the first union contracts awarded, in states like Kentucky and Ohio, and that's extremely encouraging.”

Over the next 15 years, more than $3.7 billion in funding will come to Pennsylvania under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Dixon said state agencies will use the funding for projects to close dangerous mine shafts, reclaim unstable slopes, and improve water quality by treating acid mine drainage.

“Those agencies, they’ll identify those projects, they’ll design reclamation projects,” Dixon said. “Then they’ll actually bid out that reclamation contract to a construction contractor, who will execute the work.”

Danielle M. Smith is a producer for Public News Service, where this story first appeared. An award-winning radio journalist/personality with more than a decade of experience in broadcast media, she is a former audio journalist with American Urban Radio Networks and Sheridan Broadcasting Networks who also hosts a weekly community affairs show “Good News” on WGBN (1360 AM/98.9 FM). Jason Togyer is a volunteer who serves as editor of Tube City Almanac and executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc.

Originally published July 02, 2024.

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