Editorials, Opinion

Federal dollars invested in W.Va. will pay dividends

The new acid mine drainage treatment plant, which will filter and neutralize the tainted water from Richard Mine before it flows into Deckers Creek, came online last week to much fanfare. The facility filters the water for containments and neutralizes the acidity with a lime slurry before sending it back out to join with Deckers Creek.

The vast majority of West Virginians are all too familiar with “legacy pollution,” as Steve Feldgus, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Department of Interior’s Land and Minerals Management, put it. Barren streams where no fish can survive; copper-colored water and orange-stained rocks; foul smells and tainted wells.

For decades, these things have simply been a fact of life. Environmental advocacy groups, like Friends of Deckers Creek, have worked tirelessly to restore watersheds and pushed to have abandoned mine lands remediated, but we all know virtually everything costs money. And cleaning up the mess left behind when mines close is an expensive endeavor.

The treatment plant at Richard Mine was made possible by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, spearheaded by President Biden.  That legislation allocated $11.3 billion over 15 years — enough to reclaim nearly all the recorded abandoned mine lands in the U.S. From that, West Virginia received $140 million last year and $140.7 million this year for AML and AMD projects across the state.

Because of that federal investment, we now have the Richard Mine treatment plant locally while similar projects across the state will also receive funding. Such ventures aren’t just about clean water; they are about health and economic development.

AMD can infiltrate well and groundwater sources, making them unsafe for consumption (think the ruined wells in Newburg). Any fish that manage to survive in polluted waters aren’t safe to eat, though usually AMD simply kills all aquatic life. This, in turn, hinders tourism, since our waterways and fishing are big draws for visitors to the state. So treating AMD-polluted water, like that coming out of Richard Mine, benefits the environment, people’s health and the economy.

In addition, the plant is equipped with the WVU-created technology to filter out and collect rare earth elements from AMD, though that function is not operational just yet. REEs are a family of elements that are key components in cell phones, catalytic converters and rechargeable batteries, according to Geoscience News and Information. As we’ve discussed previously, most REEs must be imported from China; this technology will allow the U.S. to source REEs locally and give West Virginia an economic boost.

But the funding from the IIJA isn’t just for AMD treatment; it will also fund reclaiming hazardous former mine land for recreational facilities and other uses, such as manufacturing and renewable energy.

At the time the IIJA was being considered in Congress, Sens. Capito and Manchin and Rep. McKinley voted in favor; Reps. Mooney and Miller voted against it. Capito, Manchin and McKinley understood the IIJA would be a lifeline for West Virginia; a few million in federal investment would pay incalculable dividends in environmental revitalization and state-level economic activity. The Richard Mine treatment plant is just the beginning.