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Appalachian Voices report shows region needs billions to clean up abandoned coal mines


A new report found that it will cost Appalachian states billions to clean up abandoned coal mines, much more than the now-bankrupt coal companies were required to provide for the purpose.

“It will cost from $7.5 billion to $9.8 billion to reclaim 633,000 acres of just coal mines that have been closed or idled since 1977 across seven Appalachian states, according to the report from environmental nonprofit Appalachian Voices,” Mike Tony reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “That’s twice as much as the $3.8 billion in total bonds available to those states, according to the report.”

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“The report’s author, Appalachian Voices senior program manager Erin Savage, said in a teleconference Wednesday that Appalachian state environmental regulators need to do far more to address the shortfall poised to grow as more coal companies declare bankruptcy, ditch their reclamation obligations and leave state bonding systems on the hook,” Tony reports.

“Lack of reclamation can be a burden and hazard to coal communities, Savage said [during the teleconference]. They pointed to Blackjewel, a bankrupt coal company that was once the nation’s sixth-largest coal producer,” Liz Moomey reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. “In March, a bankruptcy judge approved Blackjewel’s plan to abandon or transfer its mining permits, but the majority of their Kentucky permits have either not been transferred to other coal companies or have no interested buyer and are likely to be abandoned.”

After the Blackjewel ruling, Sierra Club senior attorney Peter Morgan said he feared the case might signal a trend in which bankrupt coal companies “dump their coal mine cleanup obligations onto communities and taxpayers who simply don’t have the money to pick up the tab.”

Rebecca Shelton, policy director at the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, echoed Morgan, Moomey reports. “We are really worried that this bankruptcy is a harbinger of what’s to come if no action is taken to ensure that bonding is sufficient to cover reclamation cost in all currently permitted mine sites,” she said when presenting the report to state lawmakers last week.

During the teleconference, Savage said state agencies haven’t taken bond shortfalls seriously enough but said Blackjewel’s bankruptcy might serve as a warning to other states, especially as the coal industry continues declining and more companies go bankrupt, Moomey reports.

This article originally appeared at The Rural Blog, a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.


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