Mine Subsidence Insurance
By Wesley A. Cramer
There are many fine places to live in this world. Southwestern Pennsylvania is no exception. Real estate values, excellent school systems, outstanding health care, natural scenic beauty and the absence of most devastating natural disasters (except snow) are just a few of the advantages. But just like everywhere else in the world, homeowners in this area must guard against certain risks.
Pennsylvania is one of the top four coal-producing states in the nation. Most of the coal is used to generate low-cost electricity that energizes our industrialized and high-tech lives. Nearly all of Pennsylvania's modern underground coal mines utilize a full extraction mining technique which results in the planned and immediate subsidence of the land above. But Pennsylvania has been mining coal since before the civil war. Much of the coal mined prior to the 1960's was extracted by partial extraction techniques, such as "room and pillar," which can result in unplanned and unpredictable subsidence years later.
An estimated one million Pennsylvania homes sit above abandoned coal mines. By creating the Mine Subsidence Insurance Fund in 1961, Pennsylvania recognized the need to provide homeowners with the ability to insure against the risk of subsidence. Very few homeowners' policies protect against damage resulting from "earth movement," including mine subsidence.
In 2005, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection launched a website (www.PaMSI.org) that contains a wealth of mining and subsidence insurance information. Maps of numerous municipalities showing mining activity in more than 11 counties including Allegheny, Greene and Washington have been uploaded to the website and are readily accessible to anyone with internet access.
A word of caution. There is no guarantee that the maps collected by Pennsylvania DEP are complete or accurate. As a reasonable precaution, a wise homeowner may wish to purchase the insurance even if your neighborhood is not shown as being mined under. Coverage is reasonably priced. $150,000 of insurance protection costs about $97 per year. Homeowners over 65 can get a 10 percent discount. Coverage is available up to $500,000. Homeowners should insure for the replacement cost of their homes plus 10 percent.
Questions can be directed to the DEP through its website or by calling 800-922-1678.
Southwestern Pennsylvania continues to be a great place to live, work and raise a family. By exercising sound judgment and insuring our homes against mine subsidence, we can worry a little less and enjoy our homes a little more.
Peacock Keller, LLP • 70 East Beau Street • Washington PA 15301 • 724-222-4520