Pre-regulatory mining was an invasive process that damaged the land, watersheds, left unsafe conditions at some sites and produced numerous environmental negative impacts.
Unreclaimed sites are easily recognizable because of their impacted conditions:
- sparse or nonexistent vegetation
- dry and rocky soil
- large piles of culm dot the landscape
- mine shaft openings
- steep highwalls
- mine subsidence
- Abandoned Mine Drainage seeping into watershed
- potential for underground mine fires
Northeast Pennsylvania has a proud mining heritage, one that fueled the American Industrial Revolution. The historical significance of that achievement will never fade, but neither will these sites fade from our landscape unless we address the unsafe and harmful conditions left behind by the pre-regulated mining industry. People throughout this region and across the state have become accustomed to looking at these conditions, but these conditions should motivate us to address each of these conditions that pose either an environmental or health hazard or both. This is our back yard, and we should want it to be safe, environmentally healthy and economically viable. Achieving that is Earth Conservancy’s mission.
As Earth Conservancy works to reclaim the mine scarred lands, it addresses each of these issues in an effort to bring positive change to the region. As each site is reclaimed, many of the above issues are remediated to the degree possible. In the case of vegetation and rocky soils, the culm banks and Abandoned Mine Drainage, the reclamation process can most easily address these issues. There are some that are less easily solved.
Mind Subsidences occur when underground mine working and/or supports collapse, causing the ground to shift, resulting in holes opening up at the surface. These holes can be very large, swallowing cars, destroying houses and even buildings. A sink hole is a subsidence on a much smaller scale. They are generally localized and can be recognized by a sudden depression of the ground surface as it collapses into a mine void. Sink holes can cause property damage but, it is usually to a lesser degree than subsidence.
Some conditions, like underground mine fires, are virtually impossible to stop. Mine fires run along the underground mine seams and in some cases can reach the surface, emitting smoke and noxious fumes. Earth Conservancy’s Laurel Run mine fire has been burning since 1915 and could burn for another 100 or more years. Unfortunately, because mining followed the coal seams, areas were mined underneath areas where houses and towns were built. This was the case in the 1970s in Centrailia, Pennsylvania, a mining town where a fire started at a dumpsite and ignited an abandoned mine shaft. The fire continued to burn along the coal seam slowly spreading under the town. In 1983 the federal government was authorized to buy all the homes, which would be razed. The majority of residents relocated, but some remained for a time but eventually took the buyout. In January 2010, the remaining 63 residents were forced to leave their homes because the fire had come too close to the remaining houses. Soon all of the houses of Centrailia will be razed.
Paying for Reclamation
Earth Conservancy funds its reclamation work in a number of ways: grants and loans, land sales, timbering and the sale of culm to co-generation facilities. Grants are a significant way in which Earth Conservancy pays for the reclamation work, but administrative costs are not covered by most grants, so Earth Conservancy uses these other methods to make up for what grants and loans do not pay. As reclamation costs increase, it is imperative the Earth Conservancy find a variety of ways to fund its work.
Grant funding can come from a variety of sources: the federal or state government, county or local governments or private foundations. We have been very successful at obtaining funding through sources such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Brownfield and Land Revitalization Program. The program is designed to assist states and communities and non-profits in economic redevelopment by preventing, assessing, safely cleaning up, and sustainably reusing a brownfield site. A brownfield site is a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of an existing site, which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski was instrumental in having abandoned mine lands included in the Brownfields program.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been another important partner in funding reclamation work on Earth Conservancy’s land. We have received funding through the Growing Greener, started by Gov. Tom Ridge and expanded by Growing Greener II, started by Gov. Ed Rendell. Additional support has come through the Energy Harvest Program and the Illegal Dump Cleanup Program. The DEP is the state entity responsible for the state’s environmental laws and regulations and supporting environmental improvements in the community including air, water, energy technology development improvement programs.