January 4, 2019 - Environmental groups and coal lobbyists both said they are concerned that a raid on a coal-mining reclamation fund in Ohio alongside the nationwide downturn in coal mining could leave taxpayers on the hook for millions needed to clean up abandoned mines.
Republican Gov. John Kasich's administration took $5 million from the reclamation fund in response to a significant shortfall in tax revenue in 2017. The fund was one of 16 tapped for more than $114 million that year, Tim Keen, director of the Ohio Office of Budget and Management, confirmed to The Columbus Dispatch.
There is currently no plan to return the $5 million, according to Keen.
In Ohio, coal companies pay $2,500 in collateral for each acre they will mine, and also pay a severance tax of 14 cents per ton of coal for the reclamation fund.
The fund is meant to help pay for environmental cleanup in the event that a mine is abandoned and the collateral does not cover the costs.
Ben Owens, an official with the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, wrote a letter to the state that argued the removal of the funds could mean the state wouldn't have enough money to deal with mines abandoned in the future.
State officials said Ohio taxpayers have never had to foot the bill for reclamation costs since the fund was created in 1977.
Asked about a potential overhaul of the reclamation fund that would reduce risk to taxpayers, Keen said that is a matter for the state's Department of Natural Resources to address.