ASHLEY, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The House Democratic Policy Committee toured different parts of Northeast Pennsylvania on Monday as they listened to experts and educated themselves on the process of turning polluted, hazardous areas into resources for businesses.

State Representative Napoleon Nelson, who is also the chair of the Bipartisan Emerging Technologies Caucus, hosted the tour and roundtable during the committee’s first three days in NEPA.

“The process of cleaning up old mining sites left vacant because of bankruptcy is not only an issue in Northeast Pennsylvania but across our state and anywhere coal is mined. Finding realistic, pragmatic, and safe solutions for turning scarred land and polluted streams into something that is economically and environmentally beneficial for our commonwealth is critical, and today we met some people who are dedicated to helping coal communities revitalize their economy,” said State Representative Napoleon Nelson, (d) Montgomery County.

The committee made numerous stops to visit sites and talk with experts on the process of mine reclamation, conservation, and economic revitalization. The committee started in Ashley at the Earth Conservancy headquarters, a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the impact of mining projects in NEPA. The conservancy currently has 10 mine reclamation projects.

Officials from Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation and Appalachian Region Independent Power Producers Association also helped lead the committee on a tour of projects in the surrounding areas. The committee also visited the Askam Borehole an oxidizer-based treatment facility that discharges and treats water from underground mine pools.

Ambonded mine lands in Luzerne County have been transformed into an industrial park, which now houses buildings for businesses such as Chewy.com, Adidas, and Patagonia, which provided a grant to a NEPA nonprofit for the continuation of work to reclaim old mine land.

“Mining helped fuel everything from our state’s numerous industries to the small towns that formed and grew because of the jobs mines created. However, as we’ve seen in 45 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties that have abandoned mine lands, nothing improves unless organizations, working in lockstep with the government, address the issues created by abandoned mines. That’s why this work is so important, it transforms a problem into a resource,” explained State Representative Eddie Day Pashinski.

State Representative Greg Vitali is also the minority chair of the House Environmental and Energy Committee and he says the coal waste needs to be cleared as the benefits are crucial.

“It’s a complicated issue because the immediate environmental benefits are pretty clear. You reduce an unsightly site, you reduce acid mine drainage, you reduce the risk of a fire on these coal waste sites, but the costs of burning waste coal are a little more theoretical but very important, which is greenhouse gas being released into the atmosphere. So it’s a balance of competing environmental concerns,” added State Representative Greg Vitali.  

State lawmakers also visited the former Harry E. Colliery in Swoyersville, where an estimated 500,000 tons of coal waste needed to be removed from the reclamation site. The mounds of fine-grain anthracite coal waste, also known as culm, contributed to air pollution and well as groundwater contamination.