Abandoned mine reclamation funding in limbo over political bickering

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SWOYERSVILLE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) A massive infrastructure bill in Washington is on its way to the Senate- one day after passing in the House.

The measure, called the Moving Forward Act, would do more than build roads and bridges and create jobs. It would also provide much needed funding to clean up abandoned mines in Pennsylvania and throughout the country.

Massive piles of coal waste still sit at what once was the Harry E. Breaker, one of Pennsylvania’s nearly 50,000 abandoned coal mine sites. Cleanup here requires federal funding through the Abandoned Mine Land Trust Fund, which will expire next year. But with the House approved Moving Forward Act, it would reauthorize it for another 15 years.

“This is a way for us to take a look at these sites that have been sitting idle for so long,” said Bobby Hughes, Executive Director, Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation.

Earlier this year, in the middle of reclamation work at this very site, a bipartisan effort that became part of the Moving Forward Act was announced. It would keep federal funding and the cleanup progress on track. On Wednesday, Democratic Congressman Matt Cartwright voted in favor of the $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill Which passed along party lines.

“It also includes my Reclaim Act which would accelerate the use of this money and we pump $1 billion into coal country including $300 million for Pennsylvania,” said Representative Matt Cartwright (D) 8th District.

Just one day before Republican Congressman Dan Meuser voted against the bill, he categorized it as partisan, with much of the funding supporting climate change policies that he and other Republicans oppose.

“Nearly two dollars out of every five goes to unproven, unproven green new deal mandates which right out of the gate absolutely puts a seemingly political agenda ahead of creating tangible projects,” said Representative Dan Meuser (R) 9th District.

The Republican controlled Senate is unlikely to take up the proposed legislation during this pivotal election year. Bobby Hughes knows much is at stake.

“You know, the ball is in the Senate’s court right now,” said Hughes.

Hughes says what’s at stake is more than just making use of abandoned mine sites. Acid mine drainage cleanup also hangs in the balance which has killed Solomon Creek and turned the water an orangish hue.

“They’ve got to get to the table and talk now and move this forward because otherwise it will be a futile effort to get this far and not bring it across the finish line,” said Hughes.

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