Committee tours mine reclamation sites, learns about difficulties
Rep. Nelson hosts roundtable on transforming polluted sites into resources
ASHLEY, Sept. 26 – The House Democratic Policy Committee toured parts of northeast Pennsylvania Monday, listening to experts and asking questions about the process of transforming polluted and hazardous areas into resources used by businesses.
“The process of cleaning up old mining sites left vacant because of bankruptcy is not only an issue in northeast Pennsylvania, but across our state and anywhere coal is mined,” said Rep. Napoleon Nelson, D-Montgomery, who also chairs the bipartisan Emerging Technologies Caucus. Nelson hosted the tour and roundtable during the committee’s first of three days of tours and hearings in NEPA.
“Finding realistic, pragmatic and safe solutions for turning scarred land and polluted streams into something that is economically and environmentally beneficial for our commonwealth is critical, and today we met some people who are dedicated to helping coal communities revitalize their economy.”
The committee made several stops in NEPA to visit sites and talk with experts on the process of mine reclamation, conservation and economic revitalization. Committee members started the day in Ashley at the headquarters of the Earth Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the impact of mining projects in NEPA. The conservancy has 10 mine reclamation projects. Officials from Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation and Appalachian Region Independent Power Producers Association helped lead a tour of surrounding projects. The committee visited the Askam Borehole and oxidizer-based treatment facility to discharge and treat water from underground mine pools.
Abandoned mine lands have been transformed into an industrial park, which now house buildings for companies like Chewy.com, Adidas and Patagonia – which provided a grant to a NEPA nonprofit for the continuation of work to reclaim old mind land.
“Pennsylvania is proud of its mining history, in fact, it’s what helped shaped many parts of the state,” Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski said. “Mining helped fuel everything from our state’s numerous industries to the small towns that formed and grew because of the jobs mines created. However, as we’ve seen in 45 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties that have abandoned mine lands, nothing improves unless organizations, working in lockstep with the government, address the issues created by abandoned mines. That’s why this work is so important, it transforms a problem into a resource.”
State lawmakers visited the former Harry E. Colliery in Swoyersville, where an estimated 500,000 tons of coal waste needed to be removed at the reclamation site. The piles of fine-grain anthracite coal waste, also known as culm, contributed to air pollution – in the form of dust particles picked up by the wind – as well as groundwater contamination.
“It’s a complicated issue because the immediate environmental benefits are pretty clear,” said Rep. Greg Vitali, who is the minority chair of the House Environmental and Energy Committee. “You reduce an unsightly site, you reduce acid mine drainage, you reduce the risk of a fire on these coal waste sites, but the costs of burning waste coal are a little more theoretical but very important – which is greenhouse gas being released into the atmosphere. So it’s a balance of competing environmental concerns.”
Photos of the tour and roundtable can be downloaded for publication at https://www.pahouse.net/PolicyCommittee/Galleries.