Meuser Introduces Legislation to Incentivize Coal Refuse Environmental Cleanup in Pennsylvania Communities

October 18, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON — Congressman Dan Meuser (PA-09) today introduced legislation that would incentivize environmentally-focused cleanup and remediation of coal refuse piles across Pennsylvania.

H.R. 4735, the Mine Affected Community Energy and Environment Act, creates a federal performance-based tax credit (PTC) for coal refuse-fired power plants that generate electricity through the removal and remediation of the coal refuse found on abandoned mine lands.

“Since being elected to Congress, finding a way to lead and incentivize a performance-based cleanup of coal refuse-affected communities has been a top priority for me,” said Congressman Meuser. “This legislation is environmentally friendly and addresses the energy needs of families and businesses throughout the Ninth District.”

“Fixing our local environment begins with cleaning up coal refuse dumps,” said Congressman Cartwright. “For too long, communities throughout our region have had to live with these coal refuse piles polluting their air and water while inhibiting economic development, and this bill is an important step in getting rid of these hazards. I’m proud to join Dan Meuser in this effort.”

There are currently more than 220 million tons of coal refuse, also known as waste coal, culm, boney, gob, and other names, in Pennsylvania, covering over 8,300 acres. Already, these Pennsylvania power plants have removed more than 225 million tons of such refuse, leading to the improvement or restoration of 1,200 miles of stream and reclamation of 7,200 acres of abandoned mine lands. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection estimates that, in Pennsylvania alone, the cost to remediate the known coal refuse piles would be at least $2 billion dollars if left to the Commonwealth or the federal government.

Market and regulatory challenges, including low-cost natural gas supply from the Marcellus Shale formation, subsidies to other forms of generation, and other regulatory and policy initiatives, have adversely altered the economics of the industry. In recent years, wholesale energy prices have often been below the break-even point required for coal refuse reclamation to energy plants to simply recover their cost of production.

The mismatch between revenue and costs has led to the closure or conversion of several Pennsylvania plants, and the seasonal idling or threatened closure of others, resulting in a significant decline in annual cleanup benefits in Pennsylvania. The current economics of the industry are unsustainable, and without some intervention, will lead to further plant closures and a permanent loss of their public benefits to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and to the nation.

Without these critical efforts, the coal refuse piles will continue to plague the communities of Pennsylvania, with uncontrolled water and air pollution, fires, and risks to human health and safety.

“ARIPPA would like to thank Congressmen Meuser and Cartwright for their bipartisan leadership in promoting environmental remediation and energy production by recognizing the positive environmental externalities created by this unique industry,” said Jaret Gibbons, Executive Director of the Appalachian Region Independent Power Producers Association (ARIPPA). “The legacy of this essential national resource has been left to our current citizens and the coal refuse reclamation to energy industry is proud to share in the collective responsibility of the state and federal government to support these environmental cleanup efforts in mining-affected communities across our nation."

“This tax credit will allow for the continued removal of these banks across PA where they remain a constant reminder of the legacy of past mining,” said Bobby Hughes, Executive Director of the Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR). “These landscapes would otherwise continue to sit idle and contribute further pollution to our communities, rivers, and streams, which is an environmental injustice.”

H.R. 4735 creates a refundable PTC of $12.50 for each ton of coal refuse removed. Refuse-burning plants are only eligible to receive this credit if $0.50 cents per ton is paid into a state-managed fund for additional cleanup. That fund will be used to restore riparian buffers in areas where coal refuse is located, and in downstream communities to improve water quality.

Of the 16 existing coal refuse plants in the United States, 12 are located in Pennsylvania, supporting a total of more than 3,000 full-time jobs and an annual economic impact of $615 million to Pennsylvania alone.

Click here to read the text of H.R. 4735.