Update: President Joe Biden signed the $1.7 trillion federal spending bill on December 29, 2022.
Along with the new federal spending bill passed by the Senate on Thursday, there’s a provision that allows money to be used for the long-term cleanup of waterways polluted by abandoned coal mines.
“We’re just incredibly excited,” said Dana Kuhnline, campaign manager for the ReImagine Appalachia Coalition.
It’s a Technical Fix
The issue stems from last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure law, which provided $11.3 billion dollars for states to clean up abandoned mine lands. Pennsylvania is expected to get $3.8 billion over 15 years.
Groups like ReImagine Appalachia, Appalachian Voices and the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation have been concerned that language in the Infrastructure law limited the way money could be spent on cleaning up water pollution from old mines.
“What was not included was permission for states to put some of that money into long-term, what are called set-aside accounts or savings accounts, to allow for long-term water treatment of acid mine drainage,” Kuhnline said.
In Pennsylvania, mine drainage has killed aquatic life in more than 5,500 miles of streams.
Water treatment systems can restore healthy waterways, but those systems need long-term maintenance to ensure they are constantly working properly. There are many instances of treatment systems breaking down.
“Maybe it fails for a day or a week, or it gets temporarily shut down, and everything dies because the acidity goes back up in the stream, and the fish and the bugs can’t live in that,” Kuhnline explained. “So all that progress is just lost so quickly.”
If the state is going to set up AMD treatment systems, she said, there needs to be funding to ensure their continuous operation.
“Otherwise, there’s no point in even trying,” according to Kuhnline.
The STREAM Act included in the Omnibus Spending Bill
The bill that would address this funding problem, the Safeguarding Treatment for the Restoration of Ecosystems from Abandoned Mines (STREAM) Act, was included with the federal spending package. It will allow those funds to be set aside for ongoing water treatment.
“We’re going to be able to start to solve the acid mine drainage issue with this new permission to use the funding in this way,” Kuhnline said.
The STREAM Act also gives states flexibility to use this money for mine fires and subsidence issues.