Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sticker Shock Coal Industry Balks at Dep Proposal to Hike Mining Permit Fees by as Much as 1,200 Percent

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sticker Shock Coal Industry Balks at Dep Proposal to Hike Mining Permit Fees by as Much as 1,200 Percent

Article excerpt

It is generally agreed upon that coal companies should cover more of the costs that the state Department of Environmental Protection bears to regulate coal mines.

Right now, permit fees paid by coal mine operators cover about 5 percent of the state's expenses for authorizing and overseeing the mines, and even that sliver - about $325,000 annually - has consistently come in below DEP's revenue expectations. Most of the rest of the state's $12 million annual share is drawn from the taxpayer-funded state General Fund and those allocations have been shrinking.

But when DEP released a draft proposal for discussion last month that laid out how much permit fees would have to increase to fully fund the state's share of the regulatory program, coal interests came away with sticker shock.

The permit fee for an underground bituminous mine, for example, would have to go from $5,750 to $74,000 - a nearly 1,200 percent increase. Fees for surface mining permits and anthracite underground mining permits would both rise more than 600 percent.

"We as an industry recognize that we need to make some reasonable contributions to the program," said Duane Feagley, executive director of the Pennsylvania Anthracite Council. But he cautioned, "If these fees get too high it is going to negatively impact jobs and environmental reclamation in the area."

The Pennsylvania Coal Alliance too said it "recognizes the need to contribute to a portion of the cost of DEP's permitting efforts, but any increase in the current fee schedule should be reasonable."

The full-funding formula described by DEP is not what the groups had in mind.

"A 1,200 percent increase in any program fee is not reasonable," Pennsylvania Coal Alliance spokeswoman Abby Foster said.

DEP officials say the draft proposal was meant to start a discussion about shifting more of the funding responsibility onto coal operators, but it was not meant to indicate the agency's firm position.

Under the fee schedule that has been in place since 2012, mine operators pay for a fraction of the state's share of the costs of reviewing coal permit applications. …

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