In light of tough economic times, Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) today voted in favor of Rep. Mike Tobash's (R-Schuylkill/Berks) legislation that would open the door to expanding the state's anthracite mining industry and help create new jobs across the Commonwealth's five-county anthracite region.
"The coal mining industry is very important to the people of Carbon County. As a young boy, I quickly learned how much of an impact the coal mining industry had on my community," said Heffley. "I applaud the House's decision to approve House Bill 1813 because it allows for anthracite industries to invest in operations, grow workforces and curb the high unemployment rate."
State law requires mine operators to obtain bonding to ensure sufficient funds are available to reclaim a mining site in the event the operator defaults. House Bill 1813 makes the bonding more readily available so operators can reinvest their own capital into growing their business and re-mine additional abandoned sites. Once the sites are re-mined, they are also reclaimed.
Over the past three decades, all surface coal mining operators have been required to reclaim the land once they are done extracting the mineral. The Commonwealth has been responsible for the reclamation of abandoned pits and surface workings left open prior to 1977. In order to pay for those costs, the government levied a special mining reclamation tax on all mining operators.
Anthracite operators have paid millions of dollars to the federal government to reclaim pre-1977 abandoned mine areas. But as the use of anthracite has declined, so has the taxes paid to reclaim those old pits and the amount of acreage reclaimed by the industry.
"The bottom line is, the fewer tons of anthracite produced, the fewer dollars there are for the government to reclaim those abandoned and hazardous areas," said Heffley. "That places a greater burden on taxpayers during a time of shrinking federal and state budgets."
Heffley said re-mining reclamation creates a win-win situation for everybody. Reclaiming a mine site could cost taxpayers as much as $10,000 per acre; however, when a site is reclaimed by the industry as part of a re-mining process, it costs taxpayers nothing.
Beyond the economical benefits of House Bill 1813 are the environmental protection benefits, said Heffley.Often confused with bituminous or soft coal, anthracite is naturally high in carbon, low in sulfur, has a more consistent burn time and it is virtually smokeless.
Current estimates show there is still 4 to 6 billion tons of reserve in the Commonwealth's anthracite region. The industry in Pennsylvania once employed 177,000 people and helped to fuel the Industrial Revolution and support the nation through two world wars.
Today, the industry employs about 1,000 people but still contributes more than $200 million to the regional and state economies.
"The average wage of an anthracite coal miner is $45,000 a year, which, in turn, pumps millions of dollars back into the region's local economies," said Heffley. "Under this bill, hundreds of new jobs could be created and really help stimulate the local economy."
House Bill 1813 received support from several coal mining industry groups, including the Pennsylvania Anthracite Council and the Pennsylvania Coal Association, as well as environmental advocacy groups such as the Schuylkill Conservation District and the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation.
The bill passed through the House with a vote of 193-1 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.