Archive for September, 2008

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.