Archive for March, 2009

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.