Department Of Interior
|Office of the Secretary||
Contact: Joe Pally, (202) 208-2565
|For Immediate Release:,February 4, 2004||
proposal accelerates reclamation
reclaim Pennsylvania mines decades faster than current law;
(Harrisburg, PA) -- Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton today unveiled the Bush Administration's proposal to accelerate the cleanup of dangerous abandoned coal mines, and direct funds to the highest-priority areas. The reauthorization proposal would provide sufficient funding to eliminate all significant health and safety problems within 25 years, removing an average of 142,000 people from risk annually.
"The Abandoned Mine
Land (AML) program has made thousands of Americans living in the coalfields
safer," said Norton. "But the job is not finished; this is
our opportunity to ensure not only that the job will be completed, but
completed on average 22 years sooner and in some cases, several decades
sooner, at a savings of $3.2 billion."
At a Harrisburg press event
to announce the proposal, Secretary Norton was joined by Pennsylvania
Gov. Ed Rendell, U.S. Reps. John Peterson and Don Sherwood and representatives
of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. Under the Bush Administration's
proposal, she said, Pennsylvania would see an increase in its federal
reclamation grant of nearly 50 percent, from $24.1 million to $35.5
million, with 20,612 more individuals removed from harm annually compared
to current law.
Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) on Tuesday introduced the Administration's proposal as S. 2049. Rep. John Peterson (R-PA) plans to introduce the legislation in the House this afternoon.
Although the Administation's legislation is aimed at the national problem of cleaning up coal mine sites abandoned before 1977, the plan has particular meaning in Pennsylvania.
"After 25 years of effort, we still have almost $3 billion worth of high priority hazards to health and safety still waiting to be cleaned up in this country," said Norton. "But about a third of those problems - more than $1 billion worth-are here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," said Norton. "Even worse, we estimate that more than 3.5 million Americans still live less than a mile from a dangerous high-priority abandoned coal site. Almost half of those at-risk Americans - about 1.5 million -- about 1 ½ million-- live right here in Pennsylvania. "
"Everyone in America has benefited from Pennsylvania coal for almost 300 years, but only Pennsylvanians have had to live - and sometimes die - with the consequences," she said. "We know of at least 45 deaths and 19 injuries at abandoned mine sites in the Anthracite Region of Pennsylvania in the past 30 years. It's time to stop this needless and tragic loss of lives. It's time to finish this job."
legislation, introduced yesterday by Sen. Specter, will get serious
about saving lives, improving health and safety and restoring ruined
landscapes right here in Pennsylvania," said Norton. "By directing
more of our money to where the worst problems are and speeding up the
rate at which we can remove hazards, the President's proposal will enable
us to remove 45,000 more Pennsylvanians from danger every year than
we can now. It will also enable us to finish the job here in 22 years
instead of 60."
The 1977 Surface Mining Control
and Reclamation Act established the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) 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 $530.0 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 $76 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 on-going 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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