Author Archive

The Future of Growing Greener

Friday, January 7th, 2011

By Andy McAllister, Regional Coordinator

Yesterday’s announcement of Growing Greener grant awards by Governor Rendell serves as a reminder of how important Growing Greener is to our reclamation community. The Governor’s announcement also stands in stark contrast to the possible demise of that program in the not too distant future. As most funding avenues continue to get smaller and smaller, the environmental successes fostered in part by the Growing Greener program come to the forefront. Streams across the region are recovering and our mine scarred land is healing. This work, funded in part or in whole by Growing Greener is all due to the hard work of our County Conservation Districts, local Watershed groups, and many municipalities. We can continue to build upon these environmental success stories in the coming years, but we have challenges to face.

In spite of our community’s incredible success stories in cleaning up Abandoned Mine Drainage throughout the state, there is so much more to do. Our work is far from being done. But, with Growing Greener’s funding dwindling, our work could slow dramatically.

Along with that challenge, is the danger that we may lose funding for our county Watershed Specialist positions in 2012. The Watershed Specialist positions have traditionally been funded through the Growing Greener program and if that program isn’t funded or some kind of dedicated funding stream isn’t found, our Watershed Specialists, important links between the grassroots effort and state agencies, will be gone.

The director of the Renew Growing Greener Coalition, Andrew Heath, had this to say in a press release yesterday, “It is imperative that we provide the information to our policy-makers necessary to elevate this issue to the highest priority. Funding for Growing Greener is not a luxury, it is essential for the future economic vitality of the state, and for the future of our rich natural heritage”.

As a member of the Renew Growing Greener Coalition, WPCAMR couldn’t agree more. With the changes in our state government leadership, it’s even more important now that we communicate the need for Growing Greener and the need for our Watershed Specialists to our legislators. The environmental successes brought about by our reclamation community stand as a testament to the strength of community action and the importance of the Growing Greener program.

To find out how your county Watershed Specialist can help you, contact your local county Conservation District office. To find the contact information for your county Conservation District, go to:

To find contact information for your state representative and senator, go to: and enter your zipcode.

For more information on the Renew Growing Greener Coalition, go to:

Severance Tax, Where Do We Go From Here?

Monday, November 8th, 2010

By Andy McAllister, Regional Coordinator

Editor’s Note:  Recently, WPCAMR had the opportunity to speak with Brenda Shambaugh, Policy Specialist with the PA Association of Conservation Districts (PACD) about the Marcellus Shale Severance Tax issue in Pennsylvania.  Shambaugh has been working with the Governor’s office, the Senate Republicans, environmental groups, and others to make the severance tax a reality.

WPCAMR:  Brenda, earlier this fall, the house passed Senate Bill 1155 which proposed a severance tax.  Can you tell us something about that?

Shambaugh:  Yes, Senate Bill 1155 did pass and it included a 39 cent per thousand cubic feet tax on marcellus shale gas drilling.  A portion of that funding would go to the General Fund, a portion to Environmental Stewardship Fund, and a portion went to a variety of other things including the Conservation District Fund which would provide dedicated funding for the conservation districts.  That passed the House and went over into the Senate but the Senate never addressed it.

WPCAMR:  We’ve heard that the Senate had expressed concerns about Senate Bill 1155.  One concern referenced the legislative process for this particular bill.  Can you enlighten us as to this particular stumbling block?

Shambaugh:  The (state) Constitution says that taxing bills need to be started in the House and even though the amendment originated in the House, it was put into a Senate bill.  That was the disagreement, whether or not  they could use a Senate bill as the vehicle.  That being said, if they had come to a compromise, I think there were at least two House tax bills in the Senate that may have been amended and sent back over to the House. 

WPCAMR:  So, in other words, there were other avenues to deal with any procedural concerns?

Shambaugh:  Correct. It wasn’t an insurmountable problem.  If they had come to a compromise, the House could have quickly put together a bill, passed it, and sent it to the Senate.

WPCAMR:  So where do we stand currently with the severance tax issue now that the Senate has declined to consider Senate Bill 1155?  What has happened in the last week or so?

Shambaugh:  I think there’s been a complete breakdown of negotiations between the parties involved within the General Assembly and the Governor’s office.  As a result of this and the fact that the Senate has said it will not return to Harrisburg after the election, unfortunately, I think that the issue is dead for this legislative session.  This legislative session technically does not end  until November 30th but because the Senate said they will not return, this session has virtually ended.

WPCAMR:  In spite of the fact that both the House and Senate had promised, as part of their budget negotiations this summer, that they would pass some kind of severance tax legislation by October 1st?

Shambaugh:  That is absolutely correct.  They did promise to have a piece of legislation regarding severance tax go through the General Assembly however, they could not agree on what that legislation should say or what should be included in that legislation-whether it should be just a severance tax or some of the other issues going along with the Marcellus Shale drilling.  The fact it was a verbal agreement and not any kind of statute meant the General Assembly didn’t, by law, have to pass severance tax legislation as, for example, they have to pass a budget.  So I don’t believe they were legally mandated to come up with a severance tax even though you would think that they would have the obligation because of the public statements that were made.

WPCAMR:  What does being without a severance tax mean now for our environmental community and our state as a whole?

Shambaugh:  It means that as the industry continues to drill, Pennsylvanians are not receiving the benefits of that drilling activity and particularly in those areas of the state where the drilling takes place.  There are a lot of infrastructure issues, a lot of local government issues, and a lot of environmental issues that cannot be addressed because nothing is there to address them.

WPCAMR:  Do you think the severance tax issue will resurface when the next governor gets inaugurated in January?

Shambaugh:  I can tell you that PACD and probably a number of other groups, both local government groups and environmental groups are not going to just let the issue die.  We will continue to push and continue to advocate for a reasonable severance tax in Pennsylvania.  However, there are too many unknowns to really gauge whether or not it could happen next session.  The first unknown is obviously, who’s going to be the next governor, the second unknown is whether the Republicans or Democrats are going to have the majority in the House.  The only thing I can predict is that PACD is not going to let the issue drop.

WPCAMR:  So what happens to Senate Bill 1155 at this time?  Does it reappear next session?

Shambaugh:  At the official end of the session, all bills that weren’t passed, die.  As for the Severance Tax Bill, the process will have to start all over again.  My suspicion is that legislators who were supportive of a severance tax will reintroduce legislation which will include a severance tax.

WPCAMR:  That’s a hope for the future but what can our environmental community do right now?

Shambaugh:  I think the best thing that we can do is to keep pressure on the General Assembly to again address the issue.  The more public pressure, the more media coverage, the more letters to the editor will keep the pressure on legislators to readdress the issue of a severance tax.

WPCAMR:  So continuing to communicate with our legislators on this issue is still important?

Shambaugh:  Absolutely!  They need to know that folks are not happy about the fact that they didn’t pass this legislation.  I understand that the rank-and-file legislators were not a part of the negotiation process but the rank-and-file folks can pressure their leadership and say, “Look, I need this to be done”.

WPCAMR:  Has PACD been getting a lot of support with its efforts?

Shambaugh:  Tremendous support. The districts have worked with their legislators, they’ve sent letters to the editor, they’ve done op-ed pieces, etc.  The districts have absolutely been behind this one hundred percent.  Also, the fact that there’s been a lot of press coverage shows the importance of the issue and folks are definitely interested in the issue.  Particularly in the northern tier where they’re living and breathing marcellus shale right now.

WPCAMR:  Any final comments for our readers?

Shambaugh:  Just that PACD is hopeful that WPCAMR will continue to support vigorously, a severance tax for next legislative session.

We encourage you to write or call your legislator as soon as possible and urge them of the importance of the Marcellus Shale Severance Tax .  Specifically, a severance tax that supports Environmental Stewardship and County Conservation Districts.

To find contact information for your state representative and senator, go to: and enter your zipcode.

As We See It, An Update on the SMCRA Set-Aside in PA

Friday, March 6th, 2009

By Bruce Golden, Regional Coordinator

While the reauthorized federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) has been law for more than 2 years, so far we’ve not seen a significant increase in the rate of new on-the-ground reclamation projects. That’s mainly because of a five year ramp-up period to full funding that’s built into the legislation. (Current funding levels are only slightly higher than they were prior to the reauthorization.) DEP’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation (BAMR) is comprehensively overhauling its Abandoned Mine Reclamation (AMR) program during the ramp-up period, especially as concerns the acid mine drainage (AMD) Set-Aside Program.

By law, most of the SMCRA AMR expenditures are for Priority 1 & 2 health and safety problems, almost all of which are land based issues, and generally don’t include acid mine drainage (AMD).The component of SMCRA most responsible for AMD work is the AMD Set-Aside which allows BAMR to use up to 30% of its annual grant for AMD abatement and remediation projects. (The limit prior to reauthorization was 10%)

BAMR’s current AMD project work focuses almost exclusively on projects they have already made a commitment to. That’s expected to continue for the next couple of years.
BAMR’s stated position is to use as much of the allowed 30% as is practical, while providing a balance with dealing with the traditional Priority 1 & 2 health and safety problems. By inference, we can generally expect BAMR to use something close to the full 30%, but we also expect there will be exceptions. Click here to view PA DEP’s Draft Position paper on the AMD Set-aside Program.

A new SMCRA requirement for AMD work is to “comprehensively restore” the waters in qualified “hydrologic units”. [Both quoted terms are left to BAMR to define.] This implies a statewide shotgun approach to treating AMD discharges is not acceptable. BAMR instead will concentrate on comprehensively cleaning up the hydrologic units in which they choose to work. This further implies only a select number of hydrologic units will be targeted because of funding limitations.

BAMR also intends to use the AMD Set-Aside to fund Operation & Maintenance (O&M) activities for AMD treatment systems. The extent of how much of the Set-Aside will be used for this purpose is still unknown. A tradeoff situation exists between funding O&M and building and operating new AMD treatment facilities.

In choosing a treatment technology for a given discharge, the ability of the treatment system to reliably treat a discharge over the long term has a much higher weight. This implies that passive treatment will continue to be used in situations where it has historically been successful, but de-emphasized otherwise. This suggests a greater reliance on active treatment methodologies in coming years. We may see a greater reliance on in-stream alkaline dosing.

BAMR apparently is interested in engaging local watershed groups and conservation districts in the areas they choose to work. How much depends on the extent which is both practical and allowable. General funding support for these kinds of organizations is a disallowed use of Set-Aside funds.

Actual SMCRA funding for future years is only speculative and based largely on national and state coal production levels. Estimates ramp annual funding from current levels of close $30 million to around $80 million in 2012, at which point the estimate fluctuates around an average in the mid $80 million range. Reiterating, up to 30% of those annual grants may be designated for use in AMD Set-Aside program.

WPCAMR has actively been involved with the activities leading up to reauthorization of SMCRA in late 2006 as well as being involved with shaping the Commonwealth’s revamped AMR program.

Set Aside Position Paper and Mine Drainage Treatability and Site Selection Guidelines Shaping Future of Addressing Abandoned Mine Drainage in Pennsylvania

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Since the passage of significant new amendments to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in December 2006, the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection’s (PADEP) office of Mineral Resources Management has been grappling with the provisions within the new law that could have an effect on the future of Abandoned Mine Reclamation (AMR) and the work of the AMR community.  Principle among those changes is the provision that now allows states to choose to set aside up to 30% of their annual grant to put toward Abandoned Mine Drainage (AMD) projects. Previously, states were only allowed to set aside up to 10% of their annual grant for AMD projects.

In response to the increased flexibility afforded by the new law, and in an effort to gain feedback on how to proceed with the new options, particularly the 30% set aside, the PADEP held 10 public roundtables throughout the state in 2007. One of the most commonly mentioned points from the attendees was that the State should take the full 30% set aside to put toward AMD projects.

In July 2008, the PA DEP’s Office of Mineral Resources Management issued a draft Position Paper clarifying the Department’s decision regarding the 30% set aside. While the Department clearly states a desire to take the full 30% set aside, it also recognizes its responsibility to reclaim abandoned priority mine-related land hazards specified in SMCRA. Accordingly, the state’s position is that it “...shall take the maximum 30% abandoned mine drainage set aside at the earliest possible time that provides a balance with the state’s land reclamation responsibilities.

In addition to that position, a number of other positions of perhaps lesser significance, yet important nevertheless, are developed in the same document.  For instance, DEP’s positron on providing funding for operations and maintenance for AMD treatment systems is espoused there.  DEP has done a nice job of not only articulating its positions, but also providing the background and framework on which it develops those positions. Anyone who has a stake in these matters should indeed become familiar with this document, as it will likely be a cornerstone in DEP’s use of AMD Set-aside Program program as it passes from draft to finalized form.

To read DEP’s complete draft AMD Set-aside Program Position Paper, click here.

Well before the SMCRA public outreach roundtables in 2007, the PA DEP began an initiative to evaluate the performance or success of passive treatment systems built with public funds to examine the effectiveness of various treatment technologies and develop treatability criteria and project selection guidelines. Proposed in draft form is the Mine Drainage Treatability and Site Selection Guidelines, a framework for AMD project selection which takes into account a whole host of considerations in making the ultimate decision of whether or not a specific source of AMD should be funded for remediation. A key component among the considerations is the selection of methodology for treating and/or abating AMD. Whereas in the past decade or so the virtual de facto choice in Pennsylvania has been for passive AMD  treatment, an evaluation mechanism has now been devised and spelled out favoring “proven, reliable, and predictable” treatment approaches.  Almost certainly the choice of some passive treatment methodologies will become more limited to less risky situations in which those methodologies have had generally good track records.

The original draft document was made available to a focus group earlier this year followed by a meeting in State College where the document was discussed and comments were accepted.  A comment period following that meeting provided additional opportunity to provide input to DEP.  Available now is the Draft Guidelines with Integrated Written Public Comments.

We understand DEP will continue to develop these guidelines over the period of many months.  In that we are still in the first of a 5 year ramp-up period before the full thrust of SMCRA funding will fully be felt, we are comfortable that DEP is doing its due diligence in properly developing these guidelines. As with the AMD Set-aside Program Position Paper, when finalized the Mine Drainage Treatability and Site Selection Guidelines  will likely be a cornerstone in DEP’s use of AMD Set-aside Program.

To read DEP’s Draft Mine Drainage Treatability and Project Selection Guidelines, click here.