David Hess, secretary of Pennsylvania''s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), is very happy about new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that encourage more re-mining operations in which mine operators reuse abandoned sites and return them to a productive condition at no cost to the public.
The EPA regulations, which take effect Feb. 22, reclassify discharges from abandoned mine lands to address pre-existing discharges at coal re-mining operations. The rules provide specific guidelines for writing mining permits that affect pre-existing discharges, and allow mine operators to implement Best Management Practices to clean up water pollution and ensure that pollutant levels are less than the pollutant levels released from the abandoned mine prior to re-mining.
Several members of DEP''s mining program worked with EPA, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining and the Interstate Mining Compact Commission to develop the new regulations.
"These new federal regulations validate and codify what Pennsylvania has known all along - that encouraging re-mining operations is the most cost-
effective way to reclaim abandoned mine sites," said Hess. He noted that DEP and its partners have reclaimed more than 30,000 acres - 19,000 of which where completed through industry re-mining operations.
In addition to the environmental benefits, re-mining operations also eliminate public safety hazards such as dangerous highwalls and subsidence-prone areas, while preserving virgin lands, all at no cost to taxpayers.
DEP''s Best Management Practice permits program focuses on techniques that have proven effective in reducing acid drainage from abandoned mines, such as alkaline addition, "daylighting" deep mines and re-grading coal spoil piles.
The program focuses on in-stream monitoring instead of standard numeric limitations at discharge points to monitor water quality at the site. Under an agreement with EPA, DEP already has begun pilot projects in Clearfield and Jefferson counties using this new approach.
Pennsylvania began its national leadership in encouraging re-mining in the 1980s with changes to state mining regulations that limited the liability associated with pre-existing discharges for mine operators who re-mine a site, triggering liability only when the pre-existing pollution load worsens.
Because of sound management practices, only a few sites have required treatment. A recent study of 110 re-mining sites showed that re-mining activities collectively have reduced acid load to receiving streams by more than 60 percent.
The success of these efforts provided the impetus for many of the initiatives in the "Reclaim PA" program, including Best Management Practice permits. Launched in 1998, "Reclaim PA" consists of legislative, policy and management initiatives to increase abandoned mine reclamation efforts by the mining industry, volunteers and DEP.
"These regulations clear the way for DEP''s continued development of Best Management Practice permits for re-mining operations, one of the initiatives of our landmark ''Reclaim PA'' program, where re-mining permits are based on the health of the entire watershed instead of just one discharge point," added Hess.
For more information on "Reclaim PA," visit DEP through the PA PowerPort at www.state.pa.us, keyword "Reclaim PA."
by Sandy Smith ([email protected])