Jeff Fuentes Gleghorn
Pennsylvania will receive $3.8 billion to clean up abandoned mine lands over the next 15 years, due to President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The sum represents more than four times the total amount of money that has been spent reclaiming abandoned mine lands within the Commonwealth until now, according to the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. Governor Wolf announced a total of $271 million in projects from the IIJA money for this year, which will be used to reclaim abandoned mine lands and stop acid mine drainage in the state.
Pittsburgh is infamous for the abandoned coal mines in the city and nearby suburbs. Residents may remember the underground coal fire found in 2008, which threatened the Pittsburgh International Airport. It was finally extinguished in 2014, but as of 2020 there were still two confirmed underground fires in Alleghany County.
Over two thirds of Pennsylvania’s counties are affected by abandoned mines, and 1.4 million Pennsylvanians live within one mile of abandoned mine lands. The problem spreads beyond the mines themselves, with acid mine drainage impacting over 7,000 miles of streams.
In January of this year, Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited Luzerne County to talk about the goal of the infrastructure bill. Secretary Haaland stopped in Swoyersville and spoke in front of a 40 foot tall pile of coal mine waste, saying that the money would “help ensure that no one, no one, has this kind of pollution sitting in their backyards any longer.”