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The recently enacted state budget package includes a critical new tax credit that will bolster efforts to reclaim land scarred by coal mining. The Coal Refuse Energy and Reclamation Tax Credit is a victory for those of us who want to use both technological innovation and tax incentives to clean up the environment and produce affordable, homegrown energy.

Under the new law (Act 84 of 2016), electric generation plants that use coal refuse for fuel are eligible for a $4 per ton tax credit. In Fiscal Year 2016-17, $7.5 million in credits will be available. Beginning in 2017-18, the amount of tax credits rises to $10 million.

The tax credits are important on their own, but they are only part of the story. The coal refuse industry will be able to use the credits to leverage private dollars and exponentially grow their investments. In northeastern Pennsylvania, companies like Panther Creek Energy in Nesquehoning, Carbon County are poised to employ these new tax credits to clean up more coal refuse piles, restore more environmentally degraded land and create more jobs.

The energy generation tax credits provide another tool that can be used to spur environmental protection while creating new economic opportunities. Given that the waste coal electric generation industry is already an important part of our economic mix, the shrewd use of the new tax credits will likely increase employment in an industry that has 3,800 in its workforce today. Plus, with the tax credit serving as an incentive, we can build on the 200 million tons of refuse coal that has already been removed from land in Pennsylvania.

The ability of Pennsylvania to pivot from its course of accepting large swaths of mine-scarred land and piles of waste coal as an environmental fact and instead enter a new era focused on land recycling and restoration is important to our future. In both the anthracite and bituminous coal regions of the state, there is a real need to dive into policy solutions that reverse years of indifference in this regard.

The utilization of the tax credit for using refuse coal and recovering land is only one step that can be taken and will help us build upon the remarkable work being done by Earth Conservancy in Luzerne County. The Earth Conservancy has secured $40 million that has helped reclaim thousands of acres of former mine lands and restore miles of waterways polluted with acid mine drainage.

Our work with environmental advocates and economic professionals has challenged the myth that economic development and natural resource protection are mutually exclusive. We have demonstrated that the proper economic/environmental balance can be achieved when recovering mine scarred lands.

The new Coal Refuse and Reclamation Tax Credit will have a profound impact on our environment and our economic future, serving as a catalyst for robust economic development as well as increasing efforts to preserve and protect our environment.