Local waterways still polluted by abandoned mine drainage should prompt Luzerne County to support proposed federal legislation providing more money to fix the problem, environmental advocate Robert E. Hughes told county council members this week.
“We know that they run orange, and they smell like sulfur — they’re a rotten egg smell — as you drive up and down the valley here,” Hughes said in reference to some area streams and creeks that feed into the Susquehanna River.
More abandoned mines also could be reclaimed with the funding, said Hughes, who is executive director of the nonprofit Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation.
Roughly 9 percent of the county, or 43,926 acres, was consumed by abandoned mine land a little over a decade ago, the coalition had said. Reclamation projects since then have transformed many of these blackened stretches to green space or new developments, but 10,492 acres of mine land still remain, the coalition said.
Abandoned mine land is a term used to describe sites, most privately held, that do not have to be reclaimed or treated to correct acid mine drainage at the owners’ expense because they were actively mined before passage of the 1977 Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act, Hughes told council.
“So we were left with those discharges and that type of land being left scarred for us to deal with still today,” he said.
Fees collected from active coal operators are placed in the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Trust Fund that helps pay for reclamation of the abandoned sites, but the funding released is not enough to meet the demand, Hughes said, citing an annual receipt of approximately $1 million for the entire state.
The proposed federal legislation is in the committee stage and has been named RECLAIM, or the Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More Act of 2017, the council agenda said.
Council members plan to vote on a resolution that would support the legislation at their Feb. 27 meeting. Sullivan County commissioners recently adopted a resolution, and the coalition has approached several other counties in the region as part of a statewide push involving a sister coalition in the Pittsburgh area, Hughes said.
According to government publications, the legislation would disburse $200 million annually through 2021 from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation fund to reclaim and restore land and water damaged by coal mining before 1977.
Projects funded with this windfall must promote economic activity and improve communities impacted by the decline of mining.