Commissioners support strip mine cleanup effort

By Randy Bartley Staff Writer

The Clarion County Commissioners Nov. 27 unanimously approved a letter of support for the renewal of a program benefiting areas affected by old strip mines.

A letter from Anne Daymut, watershed coordinator for Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation, requested the county’s support for the reauthorization of the federal Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act.

In 1977, Congress passed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, establishing laws and taxes, which require present-day coal mine operators to take responsibility for the reclamation and restoration of the land that they temporarily disturb while mining coal.

“Because of SMCRA and other incentives, modern-day coal operators now play an important role in maintaining our environment,” Daymut wrote. “But more work still needs to be done to heal the scars of the past.”

According to the WPCAMR, in December 2006 the 109th Congress extended and revamped a federal law that mandated a reclamation fee on each ton of coal produced in the country.

The new law did a much better job of directing reclamation fees to abandoned mine lands problem areas, where funding is needed the most.

“Pennsylvania, for example, will receive a very substantial increase in the annual grant it receives through Title IV for abandoned mine reclamation,” said Daymut.

The resolution noted, in part, “that coal mining has occurred in Pennsylvania for more than 130 years and abandoned mines pose hazards in Pennsylvania of dangerous shafts, mountains of black waste, scarred landscapes, acid drainages polluting more than 5,000 miles of streams and other hazards threatening human health and safety and depressing local economies.”

The SMCRA Act of 1977 imposed a fee of 35 cents per ton on surface mined coal, 15 cents per ton on underground mined coal and 10 cents per ton on lignite. To provide a source of revenue for the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to finance the reclamation and remediation of lands mined prior to 1977.

The AML fund is not derived from a tax and is not funded from the U.S. Treasury.

If adopted the SMCRA would be in effect for at least 15 years through 2036.