Department Of Interior
Joe Pally, (202) 208-2565
|For Immediate Release:March 4, 2004||
Pennsylvania Awarded $24 Million to Reclaim Dangerous Abandoned Mine Lands
Bush administration proposal would accelerate reclamation of hazardous abandoned mines
(WASHINGTON) - Interior Secretary Gale Norton today announced that the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining has awarded Pennsylvania $24,044,625 to help reclaim dangerous abandoned mine lands. The grant will assist the state in regulating federal and nonfederal lands.
The grant is part of OSM's Abandoned Mine Land program, which is due to expire on Sept. 30, 2004. President Bush has proposed legislation to continue the program and accelerate the rate of reclamation for the most dangerous sites.
The proposal, which would reauthorize the government's authority to collect an Abandoned Mine Land fee from coal companies, would provide sufficient funding to eliminate all significant health and safety problems within 25 years. The same job would take almost 50 years if the current system were continued. The President's proposal would remove an average of 142,000 people from risk annually by eliminating health and safety hazards posed by abandoned mines.
"America benefited from coal for 200 years, but residents living near coalfields have lived with the consequences and the risks to their health and safety for too long," said Secretary Norton. "The Abandoned Mine Land program has made thousands of Americans living in the coalfields safer, but the job is not finished. "
In Pennsylvania almost $1.04 billion worth of high-priority problems remain and more than 1,649,959 Pennsylvanians are living less than a mile from a dangerous abandoned mine site. Thousands more live every day with the environmental impacts of abandoned, unreclaimed coal mines.
"The administration's legislation will let us get serious about saving lives, improving health and safety and restoring ruined landscapes by directing more money to where the worst problems are and by speeding up the rate we remove hazards. The President's proposal will enable us to remove 45,386 more Pennsylvanians from risk every year," said Norton.
Under President Bush's proposed
legislation Pennsylvania would receive an initial increase of $11.4
million dollars annually, raising Pennsylvania's share of cleanup funds
from about $24.1 million yearly to $35.5 million, nearly a 50 percent
increase. Total funding will amount to $XX billion dollars over the
next 2X years.
Sen. Arlen Specter has introduced
the administration's proposal as S. 2049. Rep. John Peterson introduced
the legislation in the House as H.R. 3778. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell
joined the Secretary to announce the proposed legislation at a Feb.
4 event in Harrisburg. Secretary Norton also toured an AML area near
Cadiz, Ohio, on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2004.
The 1977 Surface Mining Control
and Reclamation Act established the Office of Surface Mining and authorized
the office to collect fees to finance reclamation of abandoned mine
lands. Through the AML program, problems at many high-priority sites
have been addressed. However, when AML coal fee collection authority
expires in September 2004, approximately $3 billion in significant health
and safety problems will still remain. These are not merely "ugly
landscapes" that need to be cleaned up; these are serious health
and safety hazards. A recent study conducted by OSM found that 3.5 million
Americans live less than one mile from health and safety hazards created
by abandoned coal mines.
There is a fundamental imbalance
between the goals established by the 1977 Act and the requirements for
allocating funds under the Act. The statutory allocation formula limits
the ability of the AML program to meet its primary objective of abating
AML problems on a priority basis. The majority of grant funding, or
71 percent, is distributed to states on the basis of current production.
Yet there is no relationship between current production and the magnitude
of the AML problem in each state. As a result, some states have completed
reclamation on all of the abandoned coal mine sites or are working on
low-priority sites, while others are still decades away from completing
reclamation of the most critical high-priority sites.
Interwoven with the allocation
issue is the need to address states and Indian tribes that have been
certified as having completed the reclamation of coal mining related
AML sites. Unappropriated balances in the AML fund that would be available
under the 1977 Act to certified states and tribes are expected to reach
about $530 million by the end of September 2004.
The proposed reauthorization
will not only direct dollars to the most serious reclamation problems,
it will also increase AML fund interest transfers to the United Mine
Workers of America Combined Benefit Fund for the health benefit expenses
of the unassigned beneficiaries (the 17,000 beneficiaries covered under
the CBF that were employed by companies that no longer exist). The administration's
proposal will remove the $70 million cap on the amount of interest that
may be transferred annually and will make all interest earned on the
account available for transfer as needed, including the $100 million
in "stranded" interest from prior years. Moreover, this proposal
will clarify the AML fund's investment policies to reflect both the
needs of the fund and the unassigned beneficiaries of the CBF, supporting
the administration's ongoing effort to increase the fund's return on
investment. This change, along with the administration's recently announced
extension of the prescription drug program and the transfer of stranded
interest, will provide the CBF with an additional $310 million over
the next two years alone.
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