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Feds give Pennsylvania $244M for mine land problems


(The Center Square) — Pennsylvania’s orphan oil and gas well problem has gotten much attention in recent months.

So too has the commonwealth’s legacy of hazardous mine lands. Now, the federal government is sending hundreds of millions of dollars to deal with them.

This week, the Department of the Interior announced $244 million will come into Pennsylvania to reclaim mining lands that still present risks to humans and nature alike.

“Overall, this funding is expected to enable the reclamation of nearly all current inventoried abandoned mine lands in this country,” Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said at a press conference in Bovard, where stabilization work is ongoing to avoid mine subsidence that threaten homes in the community.

Subsidence is the movement of the ground surface that follows the collapse of underground mines. Damage usually comes to homes in the form of wall deformations, cracking, and windows and doors not opening or closing properly. Sinkholes can also form from mine subsidence.

Pennsylvania will receive almost one-third of the federal money available this year, $725 million, for dealing with mine lands. The Biden administration, Haaland said, will spend more than $11 billion on abandoned mine land remediation in the coming years.

“There will be many more years of reliable funding that Pennsylvania can count on in the future,” she said. “These funds will support vitally needed jobs for coal communities by funding all types of reclamation projects which, in turn, will help revitalize entire local communities.”

The project in Bovard will stabilize 35 acres of mine subsidence that affects more than 100 homes.

“I know the Biden administration cares about communities like this one here in Bovard and communities that too often feel forgotten or left behind,” Lt. Gov. Austin Davis said. “This is a big deal for so many families and business owners in the commonwealth.”

A legacy of energy production that powered the nation has left Pennsylvania with a legacy of environmental hazards, too.

“Our commonwealth has more abandoned coal mines than any other state in the country,” Davis said. “Take Pittsburgh and copy it five times — that’s how much land we’re talking about.”

The Department of Environmental Protection has reported more than 91,000 acres of rehabilitation mining lands, the lieutenant governor said, but at least 180,000 acres of mine lands still need attention.

“This is a top priority and we’re not going to take our foot off the gas pedal,” Davis said.

Not all abandoned mine lands pose a risk, but many do. Of almost 10,000 abandoned mines across the state, almost 6,700 pose an environmental risk and almost 3,300 pose a health and safety risk. The Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation classifies 140 of them as an extreme health and safety risk.

“We have the resources to end this cycle,” Haaland said. “Together, we will make these smart investments and build a cleaner and more just future for our children and grandchildren.”

Davis encouraged homeowners to get insurance coverage; the Department of Environmental Protection estimates a yearly cost of $41. The Mine Subsidence Insurance program has paid out $36 million since the early 1960s to affected residents.