Environmental, National

Interior Secretary Jewell Joins Pennsylvania Leaders to Kick Off Innovative Reclamation Project to Help Revitalize Coal Country

Western Pennsylvania community launches mine clean up under pilot program inspired by President Obama’s POWER + Plan

A backhoe loader in front of a pile of coal

EHRENFELD, PA –(ENEWSPF)–August 4, 2016.   U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider and Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) Director Joe Pizarchik today joined Pennsylvania state and community leaders to launch an inaugural coal mine reclamation project that helps coal miners get back to work, while also eliminating safety hazards and air and stream pollution from previously abandoned coal mines.

Inspired by the POWER+ budget proposal put forward by President Obama, Congress appropriated $90 million for the Abandoned Mine Lands Economic Revitalization (AMLER) Pilot Program, equally divided among the coal producing states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky. The Ehrenfeld Abandoned Mine Reclamation Project is the first of many similar reclamation initiatives with direct economic development benefits that will be carried out in the states under the AMLER Pilot Program. The Department of the Interior’s OSMRE will manage the AMLER pilot project grants consistent with its Abandoned Mine Land reclamation program.

“While there are no silver bullets for solving the environmental and economic difficulties in Appalachia or other struggling coal regions in the United States, we have a moral commitment to assist hardworking and increasingly hard-pressed coal country residents in transitioning to a more sustainable economic future,” said Secretary Jewell. “The Ehrenfeld project is one example of how we can work together to make strong and smart investments in coal communities that not only put people back to work but restore our lands and waters to benefit the health and well-being of these communities.”

Pennsylvania’s $30 million is expected to leverage an additional $123 million in associated economic development benefits on reclaimed lands in collaboration with government and private partners, including replacing water lines, reconfiguring historic mine shafts, constructing roads and expanding infrastructure. The investments span the state, with projects in 10 counties across the Commonwealth.

Presently, the Ehrenfeld site poses serious environmental concerns, including acid drainage impacting the Little Conemaugh River and degraded air quality from a five-acre section of the refuse that had been burning. The steep, unstable pile creates hazardous conditions for adjacent residents and ATV users. In addition, 115 residential structures are located within 500 feet of the pile, with the closest home only 20 feet away.

The three-year Ehrenfeld project, which began in June, will remove 2.4 million yards of coal waste left behind from underground mining operations that lasted from 1903 to 1971. The refuse will be transported to an adjacent coal mine area, blended with alkaline material to eliminate its toxicity, and used to backfill abandoned coal mine pits. The area will be re-graded, re-seeded and mulched to promote re-vegetation, including planting native trees.

“This is just a preview of what can be done with a larger program to help people in Coal Country during these economically trying times,” said Interior Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider, who accompanied Secretary Jewell at the groundbreaking event. “We thank House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky for working to fund the Abandoned Mine Lands Economic Revitalization Pilot Program.”

The AMLER pilot program is expected to inform future funding efforts, like those envisioned by the President’s budget initiative, and the bipartisan RECLAIM legislation introduced by Chairman Rogers earlier this year. RECLAIM calls for accelerating the release of $1 billion to coal mining states from the unappropriated balance in the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to revitalize coal communities hard hit by abandoned mines and the decline in coal mining.  RECLAIM is sponsored by Congressman Rogers; co-sponsors from the Pennsylvania delegation are Congressman Matt Cartwright, Congressman Mike Doyle and Congressman Charlie Dent.

The President’s POWER+ Plan also includes a proposal to strengthen the biggest health care and pension plans that provide for the health and retirement security of coal miners and their families, which is mirrored by bipartisan legislation in the Senate and House. Roughly 12,000 of these families live in Pennsylvania. In addition, the POWER Initiative, a coordinated federal effort involving twelve federal offices (including OSMRE) that is already implementing the economic and workforce development components of the broader POWER+ Plan, has made targeted investments through the Department of Labor and Department of Commerce in economic diversification and employment and training services in Pennsylvania’s coal-impacted communities.

“Smart, sustained, collaborative investment in Coal Country makes a real difference in people’s lives – in the well-being and prosperity of communities,” said OSMRE Director Joe Pizarchik. “The men and women who worked in the coalfields were there for our country in good times and bad; now, our country should be there for them. Sustaining our efforts and accelerating investments will help meet these vital obligations.”

In addition to coal waste removal, the Ehrenfeld project will also promote enhanced recreation and tourism in the area. As a part of the project, a parking area also will be constructed as an access point for hikers and bikers on the ‘Path of the Flood’ trail, which links the National Park Service (NPS) Johnstown Flood National Memorial with the City of Johnstown, passing several historic sites associated with the flood over approximately 10 miles in total length. Providing additional access parking will enhance riverside trail use and bring more economic opportunities to Ehrenfeld and the Little Conemaugh River communities. The memorial commemorates the flood on May 31, 1889, which killed approximately 2,200 people along the Little Conemaugh River and in Johnstown, Pennsylvania after the South Fork Dam failed.

Source: http://www.doi.gov