January 4, 2023 - President Joe Biden has signed into law a provision that West Virginia watershed advocates say will give an aquatic life-protecting, economy-enhancing boost to acid mine drainage treatment efforts.
The provision opening up a massive influx of funding for acid mine drainage treatment is included in H.R. 2617, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, an omnibus spending bill signed into law Thursday. The measure allows states to set aside a portion of abandoned mine land funding from a sweeping infrastructure law passed last year to treat acid mine drainage.
The provision in the omnibus bill is the Safeguarding Treatment for the Restoration of Ecosystems from Abandoned Mines (STREAM) Act. The STREAM Act authorizes states to allot up to 30% of their annual abandoned mine land funding from last year’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into an interest-bearing account for acid mine drainage treatment.
The legislation was crafted after the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement said the infrastructure law does not allow states to direct funds it provides for cleanup into set-aside accounts that cover acid mine drainage treatment costs.
Environmental and stream restoration groups urged passage of the STREAM Act, calling it a critical step in the fight against acid mine drainage in Appalachia.
Acid mine drainage is especially pervasive in West Virginia given the state’s long history of coal mining exposing sulfide minerals to oxidization. Acid mine drainage forms when pyrite is exposed and reacts with water and air to form sulfuric acid and dissolved iron, which can form the orange and red sediments in the bottom of streams.
Amanda Pitzer, executive director of Friends of the Cheat, a Cheat River watershed restoration group, said upon Senate passage of the STREAM Act earlier this month that the measure would unlock potential to expand paddling, fishing and swimming throughout the watershed.
“(W)e’re ready to expand our work to clean up our watersheds, put people back to work through water treatment and project construction, and, ultimately, and bring more people back to the river,” Pitzer said in a statement.
Watershed protectors say the STREAM Act will not only bolster the environmental health of rivers and streams but enable hundreds of millions of dollars in potential revenue from fishing, boating, kayaking and other recreational activities lost due to a lack of clean water driven by funding restrictions in the infrastructure law.
Judy Rodd, executive director of Friends of Blackwater, a Tucker County-based Blackwater Canyon conservation nonprofit, called the STREAM Act’s passage “(c)rucial” for the Blackwater watershed in a group email to supporters Wednesday.
“It’s a big step forward!” Rodd wrote.
The staff and board of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, a statewide water health nonprofit, called the STREAM Act’s passage “great news for West Virginia’s rivers and streams” in an email to supporters Thursday.
Friends of Blackwater, Friends of the Cheat, Friends of Deckers Creek, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the West Virginia Water Research Institute were among the organizations to endorse the STREAM Act in March.
Cosponsored by Reps. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and Carol Miller, R-W.Va., and supported by Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., the House version of the STREAM Act passed the House in a 391-9 vote in July. McKinley introduced the House version with Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill.
Manchin’s office has projected the infrastructure law will provide more than $1 billion for West Virginia to address more than 140,000 acres of abandoned mine land sites and more than 1,500 miles of streams contaminated from acid mine drainage.
The federal infrastructure law provides $11.29 billion in abandoned mine land grant funding over 15 years to eligible states and tribes.
The Department of the Interior and proponents of the legislation say abandoned mine reclamation projects will support jobs by investing in projects that close hazardous mine shafts, reclaim unstable slopes and boost water quality by treating acid mine drainage.