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Operation Scarlift and Mine Reclamation in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has a long history of improving the quality of its environment. In 1968, after more than a century of unregulated coal mining, Pennsylvania passed the Land and Water Conservation and Reclamation Act. It was the first act in the nation to address abandoned mine reclamation.

On May 16, 1967, Pennsylvania voters approved a $500 million environmental bond issue. A portion of this program was to be expended for the elimination of stream pollution from abandoned coal operations, air pollution from burning coal refuse banks, alleviation of subsidence from abandoned mining operations and elimination of underground mine fires.

On January 19, 1968, the legislature enacted the "Land and Water Conservation and Reclamation Act" (1968 P.L.996, No.443) which directed $200 million of that bond issue toward abandoned mine reclamation and mine drainage abatement within the commonwealth.

The abandoned mine reclamation portion of the act, known as "Project 500," "Operation Scarlift," or "The Bond Issue Program," was administered initially by the Department of Mines and Mineral Industries and subsequently by the Department Environmental Resources (now Department of Environmental Protection). In 1976, Department Environmental Resources staff prepared the paper Operation Scarlift - Mine Drainage Abatement and presented it at the ASCE Annual Convention and Exposition.

The act was amended several times, and $120 million of the bond issue was allocated for the abatement of stream pollution from abandoned mine drainage (AMD); $20 million for the abatement of air pollution from burning refuse banks; $40 million for the control of underground mine fires; and $20 million for the control of surface subsidence over abandoned mines.

Utilizing Operation Scarlift bond funding, between 1968 and 1981 the department spent $78,000,000 to complete 500 stream pollution abatement projects, and an additional $64,000,000 to extinguish 76 underground mine fires, stabilize 156 areas subjected to mine subsidence and prevent air pollution at 28 burning refuse banks. The list of projects completed under Operation Scarlift is contained in the Bond Issue Report.

A central component of Operation Scarlift was identification and monitoring of acid mine drainage (AMD) discharges from abandoned deep mines throughout Pennsylvania. Data on flow and chemical composition of mine discharges were compiled and used to assess the magnitude of the AMD problem, and to estimate the costs for collecting and treating AMD discharges.

Numerous mine drainage watershed studies were produced by both department staff and by consultants between 1968 and 1982, and many of these remain the best descriptions and outlines of the AMD problems in the watersheds.

Copies of many of the Scarlift Watershed Reports can be found on the Western Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation's Abandoned Mine Reclamation Clearinghouse website.