Congressman Keith Rothfus

Representing the 12th District of Pennsylvania

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Rothfus Reintroduces SENSE Act to Save Coal Jobs and Clean Up the Environment

Feb 16, 2017
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Keith Rothfus [PA-12] today introduced the Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment (SENSE) Act, which passed the House with bi-partisan support during the 114th Congress.

“My legislation will save good-paying jobs in the coal refuse-to-energy industry that creates affordable energy for consumers and has remediated waste coal piles across Western Pennsylvania,” said Congressman Rothfus. “We’ve already seen the enormous environmental and economic benefits of this industry, especially in Allegheny, Cambria, and Somerset counties. By moving away from one-size-fits-all government regulations and instead crafting responsibly tailored regulations, we can keep Pennsylvanians employed and continue to restore Western Pennsylvania’s beautiful streams and hillsides.”

Background on the SENSE Act:

Decades of historic mining activity left behind many piles of “coal refuse” (also called “waste coal”), which consists of lower quality coal, rocks, and dirt. Historically, coal could not be efficiently separated from these other materials, which resulted in the accumulation of billions of tons of coal refuse across Pennsylvania and several other states over many years. Much of it was later abandoned, leading to a variety of adverse impacts on the environment including unstable land, the loss of vegetation and wildlife, air pollution, and concentrated levels of acid mine drainage (AMD) into streams and rivers. In Pennsylvania alone, more than 3,300 miles of streams have been impacted by AMD.

In response, private sector companies developed technology known as, circulating fluidized bed (CFB) reactors to utilize waste coal as fuel to generate energy. Following the refuse-to-energy process, leftover materials can remediated and used to restore green or wooded spaces and backfill abandoned mines.

However, these facilities face many challenges associated with certain rules that fail to acknowledge the unique nature of the coal refuse-to-energy business. The SENSE Act appropriately tailors two EPA regulations to the waste coal industry so that these firms can continue their environmental remediation efforts. 

Before and after pictures of the Barnes-Watkins coal refuse pile, located in Cambria County, PA.

Congressman Rothfus introduced similar legislation in the 113th and 114th Congresses. The SENSE Act passed the House with bi-partisan support on March 15, 2016 by a vote of 231-183.