Prove your humanity

President Biden’s recently passed Infrastructure law includes $11.3 billion to clean up abandoned coal mine sites, and Pennsylvania is expected to get the largest share of those funds. 

At a news conference Monday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited a partially reclaimed site in Luzerne County, and said the new funding is an investment in communities to clean up legacy pollution and grow the economy.

“It will take a collaborative approach with local, state and Tribal leaders to help ensure our communities have healthy lands and waters in their neighborhoods,” she said on a tour of Swoyersville, where federal and state officials stopped at a site with a 40-foot-high pile of coal waste along Main Street that was left after a coal processing facility closed in the 1970s. 

Pennsylvania expects to receive $3.8 billion over the next 15 years from the infrastructure law signed in November.

We are actually going to end up annually with probably approximately over an additional $250 million, once they make a final determination on how much funds Pennsylvania will receive through the infrastructure bill,” said John Stefanko, Deputy Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Office of Active and Abandoned Mine Operations.

Funds for economic development of abandoned mine land

Also on Monday, the Wolf administration announced $25 million in environmental restoration projects at 13 former coal mine sites around the state, including two in Washington County. These projects will also do more than clean up abandoned coal waste piles, they will create walking trails, farm fields, and solar farms. 

“You are looking not only at eliminating the hazards, but what can you do with the reclamation that will provide an economic value to the community,” Stefanko said.

The state has identified $5 billion worth of mineland reclamation projects to do. “And that’s not even including the streams, which was recently updated from 5,500 miles of streams impacted to over 7,000 miles of streams that we’ve now identified as being impacted by AMD [acid mine drainage],” he said.

A draft of the DEP’s 2022 Integrated Water Quality Report was released last week, and shows acid mine drainage is the leading source of impairment in the state’s rivers and streams.

Clean water advocates and mineland reclamation groups in Pennsylvania had written to Secretary Haaland in December over concerns that the infrastructure money would be restricted to health and safety issues, and would not be allowed for water quality improvement projects. Haaland clarified that on her tour, according to Stefanko.

“That we will be able to use this infrastructure money to also address AMD issues in Pennsylvania, including constructing [water treatment] systems, operating and maintaining those systems, which was a real good announcement for us to hear in Pennsylvania,” Stefanko said. 

The federal government has not said yet when that money will be distributed.