Archive for the ‘General’ Category

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.

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.

Favorable Court Decision, OSM Rulemaking, and DEP Minewater Treatability

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Appeals Court Makes Decision Favorable To AMR

By Bruce Golden, Regional Coordinator

Proponents of funding for abandoned mine reclamation breathed a sigh of relief last week following a court decision which protected the government’s ability to collect a reclamation fee on exported coal.

A number of coal operators had previously sued the U.S. government to discontinue the collection of the abandoned mine reclamation fee on coal produced in the U.S. then exported. Based on an argument that the fee was unconstitutional as applied to exported coal, the coal operators were successful in a lower court decision that agreed with their argument. The U.S. government appealed the decision to federal appeals court which last week overturned the lower court’s decision, in essence preserving the ability to collect the fee.

The fee itself supports reclamation efforts to fix coal mining problems that were created before the enactment of adequate environmental laws prescribing environmental standards. Currently assessed at 31.5 cents per ton for surface mined coal and 13. 5 cents per ton on deep mined coal, the abandoned mine reclamation fee is distributed to coal mining states to fix health and safety problems on abandoned mine lands and remediate streams and rivers degraded by acid mine drainage. Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of having far more problems from the days of unregulated coal mining than any other state, with about a quarter of a million acres of abandoned mine lands and over 5,000 miles of polluted streams.

In December 2006, Congress reauthorized the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) to, among other things, continue the collection of the reclamation fee through 2021. Optimistically, as much as $1.4 billion will be returned to Pennsylvania derived from reclamation fees with the express purpose of addressing abandoned mine problems. While significant and as good as Pennsylvania could have reasonably hoped for, this figure falls far short of a daunting estimate of $15 billion needed to fully address the legacy of unregulated coal mining.

Currently something over 4% of the coal mined in the U.S. is exported. Had the court decided in favor of the coal operators, the cessation (and possible refunding) of reclamation fees on exported coal would have eroded already inadequate reclamation funding, thus reducing Pennsylvania’s share of reclamation funding by tens of millions of dollars over the lifetime of the reauthorized SMCRA.

The appellate court’s decision was based solely on the interpretation of the language of the law. In particular, that a reclamation fee is imposed upon “coal produced” in the United States. The court’s decision came down to the meaning of “coal produced” as used in SMCRA. The following is a fairly readable excerpt from the court’s decision.

If “coal produced” refers solely to coal extracted then the disputed portion of the statute does not render the statute unconstitutional under the Export Clause. If, however, “coal produced” is interpreted to include the entire process of extracting and selling coal – if it is a tax on extraction and sale – then, as it applies to sales that occur in the export process, it is an unconstitutional violation of the Export Clause.

…. Where a possible construction of a statute would render the statute unconstitutional, courts must construe the statute “to avoid such problems unless such construction is plainly contrary to the intent of Congress. … This canon of constitutional avoidance is subject only to the qualification that the interpretation that “save a statute from unconstitutionality” must be reasonable-that is, the saving construction must not be “plainly contrary to the intent of Congress.” … “The elementary rule is that every reasonable construction must be resorted to, in order to save the statute from unconstitutionality.

Our interpretation of the interpretation is court was obligated to choose the only alternative that would have preserved the constitutionality of the portion of SMCRA in question, that coal production only meant coal extraction, thus allowing the imposition of a reclamation fee.

Even though the decision was based on “a fine point”, it does represent a victory for abandoned mine reclamation. However, it may not be over yet. This case may include another level of appeal.

DEP Seeks Comments on Mine Drainage Treatability Document

By Andy McAllister, Watershed Coordinator

The PA DEP Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation is seeking public comments on the Draft Mine Drainage Treatabililty and Project Selection Guidelines.

Over a year ago, the DEP and Office of Surface Mining (OSM) began an initiative to evaluate passive treatment systems built with public funds by both government and private entities. As a result of these evaluations, a joint DEP and OSM workgroup was established to develop treatability criteria and project selection guidelines for Title IV funded projects. This document outlines the proposed process by which DEP will prioritize AMD projects to be funed. Once final, this document will serve as the primary method for evaluating all newly proposed mine drainage projects.

On June 10, 2008, a special Focus Group convened in State College to learn more about the draft guidelines and to provide comments and suggestions. The notes for that meeting will be available on the BAMR’s AML Focus Group webpage soon.

The Draft Mine Drainage Treatability and Project Selection Guidelines pdf document and directions for providing written comments can be found online on BAMR’s AML Focus Group webpage. Comments will be received until July 14, 2008.

OSM finally releases rulemaking for amended SMCRA

By Bruce Golden, Regional Coordinator

The Office of Surface Mining, at long last has released rulemaking for amended SMCRA. (Rulemaking is the process of fleshing out a law with official rules and regulations used in the actual practical application of the law.)

Be forewarned, this will not a be quick, easy read. So far, we’ve only given it a cursory look. We will likely have future comments in upcoming issues for some portions. And speaking of comments, OSM will accept formal comments on rulemaking until August 19, 2008. Stay tuned for more.

News of Note

  • The 10th PA Abandoned Mine Reclamation and Coal Mining Heritage Conference will be held August 12-14th at the Ramada Inn and Conference Center in State College, PA. For more information and to register online, go to: