Keynote Address: Peterson Introduces Bipartisan
Bill To Accelerate Clean-Up Of Hazardous Abandoned Coal Mines
Congressman John E.
Peterson Introduces Bipartisan Bill To Accelerate Clean-Up Of Hazardous Abandoned Coal Mines
Washington – U.S. Congressman John Peterson (R-PA/5) was joined by a bipartisan coalition of 16 House Members from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee and Maryland to introduce legislation that would reauthorize the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program and speed up the reclamation of thousands of hazardous abandoned coal mines across the country.
The bipartisan bill would greatly reduce the health, safety and environmental hazards of abandoned coal mines left over from decades of coal mining that took place before Congress passed mining reforms in 1977. Abandoned mines are commonplace throughout Appalachia, particularly in states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia where the majority of America’s coal was mined throughout the industrial revolution and two world wars.
Under the current AML program, mine reclamation dollars are raised through a per-ton fee on coal and are allocated to states based on their current level of coal production. As a result, the majority of funds are directed to states like Wyoming which only recently began mining coal as the industry moved west. Since Wyoming has been certified since 1982 to have no abandoned mine problems, the state has used the millions of dollars they receive from the AML program for building construction, road paving and other miscellaneous projects. Consequently, only 52 percent of AML program funding is currently being used to clean up hazardous abandoned mines.
At the same time, states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia are still decades away from completing reclamation work on thousands of hazardous abandoned coal mines. At least 40 people have been killed and many more injured at abandoned mines in Pennsylvania alone over the past 15 years. More than $1 billion is still needed to clean up the 4,600 mines that are dangerous or environmentally harmful, and more than 1.6 million Pennsylvanians live less than a mile from a dangerous mine. Over 3,000 miles of streams and rivers in the Commonwealth are polluted with acid mine drainage. Many of these same hazards exist throughout Appalachia.
Under the Peterson bill, future AML funding would be directed to areas that need it, providing reclamation dollars to states based on their number of abandoned mines that present a public health and safety risk. By refocusing the AML program on its intended purpose of cleaning up abandoned coal mines, the Peterson proposal would clean up all high-priority mine sites in 25 years instead of the 50-60 years that is estimated under the current AML program.
According to Peterson, “This common sense legislation simply asks that the AML program be used for its intended purpose of cleaning up abandoned coal mines, and not to pave roads or fund other ‘rainy-day’ projects. This proposal will greatly improve states’ ability to clean up hazardous abandoned mines in a timely manner. Families in Pennsylvania and throughout Appalachia have lived for too long with the health, safety and environmental hazards resulting from abandoned coal mines, and this bill will finally refocus the AML program on mine reclamation.”
The Peterson bill would raise the minimum state AML program grant from $2 to $3 million, benefiting Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and several other ‘minimum program’ states. In addition, the bill increases funding for the 17,000 retired mine workers covered under the Combined Benefit Fund (CBF) by removing the $70 million cap which currently exists on the amount of interest transferred annually into the fund. The bill also makes interest earned on the account available for transfer as needed, including $76 million in “stranded” interest from prior years.
Under Peterson’s proposal, Wyoming would be fully reimbursed for the $465 million in fees paid into the AML program by companies that mine coal in Wyoming, fulfilling a commitment made under the current AML program. This is despite the fact that 96 percent of Wyoming’s coal is mined on federal land, and 93 percent of the coal mined in Wyoming is sold in other states where American consumers – not Wyoming producers – end up paying the fee.
While the Peterson bill would re-focus the AML program on cleaning up high-priority abandoned coal mines, a competing proposal, the Cubin-Rahall bill, would continue to neglect current mine reclamation needs in favor of maintaining and increasing the ‘rainy day’ fund for Wyoming.
In addition to protecting the multi-million dollar funding stream which currently flows to Wyoming, Cubin-Rahall creates an entirely new $1 billion pot of money for non-reclamation projects, the vast majority of which would also end up in Wyoming. At the same time, Cubin-Rahall bill would cut $120 million from the Federal operations budget which is used for abandoned mine emergencies, drinking water contamination, watershed cooperative agreements, supplemental grants to minimum program states, and the Clean Streams Initiative which is used to clean up acid mine drainage in streams, rivers and watersheds across the country.
According to an analysis by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining (OSM), Cubin-Rahall would steer more than $1.2 billion in non-reclamation funding to Wyoming over the next 25 years, while leaving a shortfall of more than $1 billion for priority mine reclamation projects in states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kansas and Oklahoma. After 25 years, Pennsylvania would still need $566 million and West Virginia would still be $256 million short of completing high-priority mine reclamation projects under the Cubin-Rahall proposal.
The Peterson bill, which would clean up all current high-priority abandoned mines within the next 25 years while saving the program several billion dollars, has already been endorsed by Trout Unlimited and the PA Audubon Society. A similar bill introduced by Peterson last year was endorsed by the Bush Administration, Pennsylvania’s Democratic Governor Ed Rendell, and numerous organizations including the PA Environmental Council.
According to Peterson, “This bill represents the combined efforts of a broad coalition of interests and ideologies – all coming together to do what is necessary to clean-up and reclaim abandoned mines before these sites cause even more damage to our citizens’ health and communities. As this discussion moves forward, we will have to decide whether the Abandoned Mine Lands program is going to be used for abandoned mine reclamation, as was originally intended, or whether it will continue to be a multi-million dollar slush fund for Wyoming.”
In their new endorsement, the PA Audubon Society stressed the importance of mine reclamation, citing our “unique responsibility and cost-effective opportunity to take a leadership role in abandoned mine reclamation, while simultaneously contributing to the survival of imperiled bird populations.” The endorsement continued, “We are particularly pleased that you have acknowledged the need to finish the job of repairing the enormous problems that remain in states like Pennsylvania that fueled this country’s industrial past. To that end, we wholeheartedly agree with your recommendation to distribute funds to states based upon their historic production.”
H.R. 2721, the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program Extension and Reform Act of 2005, was officially introduced by Peterson and a bipartisan coalition of House Members on Thursday, May 26th.
John Peterson is a lifelong resident of western Pennsylvania, born in Titusville on Christmas Day 1938, and for years a resident of nearby Pleasantville. He served in the U.S. Army, both in active and reserve duty, from 1957 through 1963.
After the army, he came back home to Western PA looking to start a business, and, after years of scrounging up the necessary seed money, was able to buy a local grocery store. He would own and operate that food market for over 25 years.
His public service career started way back in the 70s when he served on his local hospital board and ran for a seat on his local borough council, which he won and kept for eight years. In 1977, he was approached to run for the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives, which, of course, he did.
The rest, as they say, is history. John served in the State House for 8 years, and, in 1984, was elected to the Pennsylvania Senate where he chaired both the Public Health and Welfare Committee and the Republican Policy Committee. While in the legislature, Peterson authored the Welfare Reform, Living Will, and AIDS Confidentiality legislation.
In 1996, Peterson was elected to Pennsylvania's Fifth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Upon arrival he was asked to serve on the Education and Workforce Committee, where he brought attention to issues related to technical and career education and worked to make higher education of all types more accessible to average Americans.
Today, he sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, as well as the Interior and Environment Subcommittee, which, among its duties, oversees funding for abandoned mine lands. He also serves on the House Resources Committee, where he is a member of the Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee and the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.
As Co-Chairman of the Congressional Rural Caucus, John has worked with legislators of all stripes to strengthen and revitalize rural communities through initiatives that create jobs, develop local economies, and keep rural folks safe and healthy.
Of course, a major impediment to rural development and public safety is the continued danger that abandoned mines pose to rural communities. That's why Congressman Peterson is committed to reducing the health, safety and environmental hazards of abandoned coal mines left over from decades of unregulated mining. He is author of House Resolution 2721, a commonsense piece of legislation that would reauthorize the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund, and readjust the funding formula so that states with the worst outstanding mines get the funds they desperately need, and, frankly, rightfully deserve.
Peterson is married to Saundra, his wife of over 30 years. They
have a son and two granddaughters.