Issue Position: Environment
* Introduced the Low Carbon Economy Act with Senator Bingaman aimed at slowing, stopping, and reversing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.
* Shepherded through Congress the Abandoned Mine Land Program which provides Pennsylvania over $1.3 billion for mine cleanup, the state's top water quality problem.
* Working to reduce air pollution, mercury contamination in fish, and emissions that cause acid rain in Pennsylvania 's waterways.
* Continues to fight against urban sprawl, for funding to repair our aging water and sewer systems and for the cleanup of abandoned industrial sites.
Very few issues that Congress faces each year are as important to the public as protecting the environment. When voting on environmental legislation in the Senate, I have attempted to effectively balance protecting the environment with economic growth in Pennsylvania and the nation.
My major concerns for Pennsylvania 's environment include: abandoned mine problems, air pollution, climate change, sprawl, poor water quality, as well as the devastating effects of Superfund or similar contaminated sites in communities. In order to improve the quality of life in Pennsylvania , attract new business, and increase tourism and recreation, we must foster a healthy environment.
Reclamation of abandoned coal mine sites is an issue that is critical to Pennsylvania given its historic coal mining legacy. Our mining heritage has left many portions of Pennsylvania scarred both physically and economically. We should and do, though mostly at the state level, require coal operations to meet strict environmental and worker safety guidelines. However, beyond what we can do about future impacts, we must also address the many remaining problems from our coal heritage. Pennsylvania has the worst AML problems including, 250,000 acres of abandoned mine lands; 2,400 miles of polluted streams due to acid mine drainage; 38 underground mine fires; and over 1.6 million people living within 1 mile of a dangerous mine site. Due to these problems, reclamation in Pennsylvania will cost over $1 billion.
Under the original AML program which was authorized by the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, Pennsylvania received $24 million annually to address abandoned mine land problems. Although this assistance was set to expire in September 2004, my colleague Senator Byrd from West Virginia and I extended it five times through appropriations bills to ensure continued assistance until a comprehensive reauthorization could be passed.
I am pleased the Abandoned Mine Reclamation program was reauthorized on December 20, 2006, when the President signed a version of S. 2616, the Santorum-Specter "Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act Amendments of 200; as part of H.R. 6111the Tax Relief and Health Care Act. This legislation reauthorizes the AML program for fifteen years; requires that the fee assessed on each ton of coal is used for its intended purpose for mine reclamation; and increases funding for states like Pennsylvania with coal production.
Pennsylvania will receive over $1 billion for mine reclamation. This is enough to eliminate all of the high priority health and safety problems in the Commonwealth.
I have also encouraged efforts to produce new technologies tailored to Pennsylvania environmental problems. For example, I have supported a unique project in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, which holds the promise of reducing our dependence on foreign oil, while at the same time cleaning the air, using coal waste, and improving water quality by reducing acid mine drainage. The project is a coal-to-liquids plant that will transform waste coal into ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel or similar products-the first initiative of its kind in the U.S. I helped secure a $100 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to build this plant.
With regard to clean air, while the Clean Air Act has been highly effective in reducing air pollution, there is much more work to be done. The courts and the executive branch are continuing to face major decisions on clean air issues, with Congress playing an important oversight role. I am currently following several issues important to public health and the environment, including the reduction of fine particles that contribute to respiratory ailments, heart attacks, and tens of thousands of premature deaths annually; mercury contamination in fish that threaten humans who consume them; and emissions that cause acid rain in Pennsylvania 's water ways. In addition, I have supported efforts to reduce the amount of air pollution traveling into Pennsylvania from other states, the presence of which makes it more difficult to address our own air pollution problems.
Much attention is currently focused on the issue of climate change, an issue that I have been following for some time. As early as 2001, I urged the President to address greenhouse gas emissions by having the United States , as the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, take a leadership role on climate change. During consideration of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, I introduced a bipartisan amendment with Senator Bingaman calling on the U.S. Congress to "enact a comprehensive and effective national program of mandatory, market-based limits and incentives on emissions of greenhouse gases." The passage of this amendment on June 22, 2005, was a step forward and formed the basis for legislation we introduced on July 11, 2007, S. 1766, the Low Carbon Economy Act which would slow, stop, and reverse the growth of greenhouse emissions while protecting our economy and encouraging comparable action by our major trading partners and key contributors to global emissions.
Additionally, Pennsylvania, home to two of the nation's largest urban areas, Philadelphia, and in close proximity to New York City, is experiencing the phenomenon of urban sprawl. In 2003, I introduced a bill called the Highlands Stewardship Act, which since enacted authorized $10 million annually for land conservation projects located within the Highlands region. The environmentally unique Highlands area encompasses more than 2 million acres, extending from eastern Pennsylvania through the States of New Jersey and New York to northwestern Connecticut, and provides drinking water to over 15 million people. The legislation allows the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to work with Highlands States, local communities, local organizations, and willing land sellers to preserve high priority conservation lands in the region. To date, the Senate Appropriations Committee has provided $3 million for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to begin acquiring highlands region lands in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. I will continue to fight for funding to conserve land in this vital area.
I believe it is also important to enhance and maintain Pennsylvania's water quality. I supported the 1987 Clean Water Act amendments, which provided improvements to the nation's drinking water. I also supported re-authorization of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1996, which is the main federal law that ensures the quality of Americans' drinking water. These laws have helped our nation make significant strides in cleaning its water. As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I have consistently supported increased funding for the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. Additional funding would address our impaired and aging water infrastructure, including discharges from aging sewer systems, urban storm water and other sources.
The Federal government has assisted states, through revolving funds and the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) State and Tribal Assistance Grant program, to construct projects benefiting the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with repairs to aging sewer systems, upgrades of older equipment, and improvements to treatment systems. One of Pennsylvania's main challenges ahead is maintaining a clean and safe water infrastructure without passing on major rate hikes to consumers. It is vital that the Federal government continue to maintain a strong partnership with the state and local governments to share the burden of maintaining this vital resource. Making investments in clean water infrastructure and public health must remain a high priority.
Furthermore, I support Superfund reform, including attempts to speed up cleanups at toxic sites by minimizing litigation over liability for the parties least responsible for the pollution. On the Appropriations Committee, I have pressed annually for the highest level of funding possible for the Superfund program to expedite cleanups. I have also supported "brownfields" initiatives to identify idle or underused industrial and commercial sites where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination and return the land to productive use. Pennsylvania has an estimated 100,000 to 120,000 acres of brownfields with great potential for re-use.
In order to ensure that environmental issues receive their proper attention, I have supported elevating the EPA to Department-level, renaming it the Department of Environmental Protection. I have also worked to help local communities in Pennsylvania through complicated environmental cleanups, including encouraging independent oversight of the EPA through the EPA National Ombudsman's office.
I have witnessed great environmental strides and contributed to important legislative measures during my years in the U.S. Senate. I pledge to continue working with the citizens of Pennsylvania and leaders in Washington to further the goals of environmental stewardship and economic growth.