WILKES-BARRE — U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright said acid mine drainage restoration creates jobs, restores recreational opportunities, boosts our economy and makes our communities safer, stronger and more attractive to new investment without costing taxpayers a dime.
The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to pass bipartisan, bicameral legislation led by Rep. Cartwright, D-Mus., that would deal with the dewatering of acid mines, one of the most visible, expensive and dangerous relics of the region’s coal mining history.
The Protecting Ecosystems from Abandoned Mines Act (STREAM) was first introduced in March by Cartwright along with Republican US Representative David McKinley of West Virginia. The companion bill in the Senate was led by Democrat Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and Indiana Republican Mike Brown.
“I am pleased to have passed this legislation through the House and am grateful to Senator Bob Casey for spearheading this effort,” said Cartwright. “It’s also heartening to see that we can once again put aside partisan bickering, this time to pass important legislation that takes us one step closer to cleaning up our waterways for current and future generations.”
The final vote Friday night was 391 to 9, with 180 House Republicans voting in favor of Rep. Cartwright’s bill.
The next step for the STREAM Act is Senate consideration.
“Across the Commonwealth, abandoned mines pose a serious health and safety hazard to Pennsylvania families,” said Senator Casey. “Thanks to the Infrastructure Act, coal-mining regions are getting billions to reclaim abandoned mine lands. The STREAM Act allows communities to use this funding to clean up acid mine drainage that pollutes many lakes and streams, and in doing so will create long-term jobs, support local economies and restore fishing and recreation opportunities,” said Senator Casey. “I urge my colleagues in the Senate to support this bill and help communities across the country gain access to clean water.”
In communities like Northeast Pennsylvania that once relied on the coal industry, mines that have been closed for nearly 50 years continue to pollute creeks, rivers and streams, turning them orange from a chemical reaction that creates acidic drainage mines. These polluted bodies of water are not just an eyesore, they pose a constant threat to the health and well-being of residents and wildlife and undermine economic development efforts. Acid mine drainage affects ecosystems in more than 5,500 miles of Pennsylvania waterways, resulting in an annual loss of $29 million in lost fishing revenue alone.
The acid mine drainage problems of West Virginia are very similar to those of Pennsylvania.
The problem is compounded by the fact that acid mine drainage never goes away. Remediation requires long-term treatment facilities and, in turn, long-term financing. While the bipartisan Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA) of 2021 provided $11.3 billion for coal communities, it did not allow those affected to set aside IIJA funds for future waterway needs.
The STREAM Act captures this by ensuring that states can use IIJA funds for the ongoing treatment needed to dewater acid mines.
“For most states affected by acid mine drainage, it is financially impossible to provide enough money to protect existing and future treatment systems,” said John Dawes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Watershed Foundation. “We are grateful for Representative Cartwright’s efforts in leading the passage of the STREAM Act in the House and now look to members of the Senate to support Senator Casey’s efforts to pass this critical legislation.”
Bobby Hughes, executive director of the Eastern Pennsylvania Abandoned Mine Reclamation Coalition, agrees that time is of the essence.
“We can’t wait any longer for clean streams, green spaces, a dynamic and diversified regional economy and communities where our children can safely rest, live, work and play,” Hughes said. “Ensuring the availability of funds for long-term operations and maintenance is essential to ensure that acid mine drainage issues are addressed and that we have waterways that are inviting for recreation and safe for public use. We really need private landowners to be open to considering future monitoring and eventual treatment of acid mine drainage if we are going to clean up our more than 5,500 miles of waterways damaged by acid mine drainage.”
More than 35 organizations supported the STREAM Act, including the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation and Appalachian Voices with offices in Boone, North Carolina; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Knoxville, Tennessee.
Contact Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.