USA: Bill to clean up coal refuse

U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (PA-11) on Thursday introduced legislation to incentivize the reclamation of environmentally harmful coal refuse piles. The legislation, H.R. 4977, the Coal Refuse Remediation Act, would provide a per-ton production tax credit (PTC) to coal refuse fired electric plants, which generate electricity from coal waste while also remediating and reclaiming coal refuse piles on abandoned mine lands.

“I grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania, so I’m no stranger to the burden that coal waste piles place on communities and first responders,” Barletta said after introducing the legislation. “The Coal Refuse Remediation Act will give the private sector skin in the remediation and reclamation game so that state and local governments can focus their limited resources on other important tasks. Coal refuse fired electric plants are critical to our energy supply chain, especially during cold snaps like we’ve seen the past few winters. By providing them with a tax credit, we can tackle multiple important issues like energy production, environmental cleanup, and economic development, all at once.”

“The coal refuse recycling effort is one that is working, providing a measurable and cost-effective option for removing environmentally damaging coal refuse piles, cleaning-up the underlying land, abating water pollution and generating electricity,” said George Ellis, Executive Director of the Appalachian Region Independent Power Producers Association (ARIPPA), which represents many of these facilities.

Barletta’s legislation would provide a performance-based PTC of $12 per ton to help support coal refuse fired electric plants as they sell electricity in order to clean up abandoned mine lands. In order to be eligible to earn the tax credit, at least 75 percent of the coal refuse facility’s fuel, by BTU energy value, must be coal refuse and the recovery sites must be remediated and reclaimed. The Coal Refuse Remediation Act is intended to address a neglected problem facing remote and often rural regions of our country.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection estimates that, in Pennsylvania alone, the cost to remediate known coal refuse piles would be at least $2 billion. Coal refuse piles in Pennsylvania cover an aggregate area of more than 10,000 acres and contain a total volume of approximately 2 billion cubic yards. These piles pose a threat to the health and safety of local communities, as well as to water and air quality. Currently, there is no viable, environmentally efficient, cost effective alternative to the coal refuse energy remediation projects.

Of the 18 existing coal refuse energy facilities in the country, 14 are located in Pennsylvania, with the remaining facilities in West Virginia, Utah and Montana. Were it to be installed new today, this industry represents a current investment of more than $5 billion of critical installed environmental remediation infrastructure dedicated to the removal, remediation and reclamation of land burdened by abandoned coal refuse piles, Barletta’s office reports. To date, the industry has removed more than 230 million tons of coal refuse and restored thousands of acres of abandoned mine lands while recovering over 1,200 miles of streams. In total, the plants support more than 4,300 skilled jobs with an annual payroll in excess of $270 million, often in financially distressed communities.