The Pennsylvania Senate is evaluating the future of a unique Pennsylvania industry which has generated up to 10 percent of the state’s electric power needs over the past three decades while cleaning up acid mine drainage and pollution along 1,200 miles of streams in the state and reduced air pollution from wild fires, all while recycling 200 million tons of coal waste and reclaiming 7,000 acres of abandoned coal mine land.
Beginning in the 1980s, independent electric power producers erected 14 state-of-the-art power plants across the Anthracite and bituminous coal fields of the state using high-efficiency fluidized bed boilers to generate electricity and take advantage of special, guaranteed power rates then available under state law. Over the years, the preferential power rates expired as the electric generating industry moved to a demand-driven market model. To keep the coal refuse industry competitive and able to continue its privately funded environmental cleanup model, the Commonwealth instituted a tax credit program of $4 a ton to incentivize utilization of coal wastes. The total annual tax credit was capped at $7.5 million a year and is scheduled to increase to $10 million a year in 2017.
In preparation for a progress report to the Senate Environmental Protection Committee this month, ARIPPA, a coal waste industry trade association, commissioned an environmental and economic impact report from Econsult Solutions, a Philadelphia research firm.
Econsult looked at the yearly and total benchmarks achieved by the waste coal cleanup effort and projected out expected benefits for the next 20 years if the program continues to perform at or near current capacity.
The study found that:
- 200 million tons of coal refuse had been recovered and recycled into fuel.
- 7,000 acres of abandoned coal lands and refuse piles had been re-contoured for new, productive uses.
- Acid mine drainage and other pollution of 1,200 miles of streams have been remediated.
- At peak capacity, the 14 power plants were generating 1.4 megawatts of electricity, sufficient to supply one million homes.
- The industry directly employed more than 1,500 skilled workers earning an average of $70,000 a year and indirectly supported another 3,000 jobs in nearby communities.
- The total economic impact of the coal waste industry in Pennsylvania is about $740 million a year.
- The total value of the environmental cleanup to be provided to the Commonwealth at no cost to the taxpayer over the next 20 years is estimated at more than $500 million.
“The coal refuse recycling incentive is unique to Pennsylvania among the mining states,” George Ellis, ARIPPA executive director, noted. “Our members are providing a valuable service to future generations of Pennsylvanians by cleaning up the historic scars of more than two centuries of mining, at no cost to taxpayers. At the same time, we generate clean electricity. It’s been a hugely successful partnership.”
Ellis presented the Econsult report at a recent hearing conducted by the state Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee held in Jim Thorpe, in the heart of the anthracite field.
“We’ve made steady progress over the last two decades in removing coal refuse and turning it into energy, along with beneficial ash that can be recycled and used to remediate mining sites and in products such as concrete and asphalt. We generate electricity in order to pay for our environmental activities – the removal of abandoned coal refuse piles and the remediation and restoration of coal refuse affected sites. If our industry does not survive, the cleanup becomes the responsibility of the commonwealth and its taxpayers,” Ellis told the committee.
Ellis urged the committee to preserve the recently adopted tax credit measure and to explore other opportunities for economic support and regulatory relief that would help to keep the plants operating.
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(The complete Econsult report is available at www.arippa.org)