Mine Reclamation Needs in Western U.S. of Major Concern as Coal Industry Weakens
January 14, 2020 - More than one-third of all land mined for coal in the western U.S. remains unreclaimed after nearly 50 years of mining, according to a new report from a regional network of western conservation organizations.
There are about 150,000 unreclaimed acres, or 234 square miles, in the West, according to a report from the Western Organization of Resource Councils, or WORC. That land is either still being mined or is classified as long-term reclamation and mining facilities, such as haul roads and other areas that coal producers deem necessary until the end of the mine life.
The report noted the coal industry’s decline and projections of its continuing demise as demand for the fuel wanes. Federal and state governments need to be more active to ensure producers clean up their mines rather than sticking taxpayers with the bill, which may involve policy changes, according to the report.
Among its recommendations, the report said policymakers should require companies to provide detailed mine closure plans that include the expected timing and resources the producer has available to put toward the costs of shutting down the operation. The council also suggested that policymakers require companies to create sinking funds to help pay for reclamation obligations and eliminate self-bonding at state and federal levels.
Part of the problem is that much of the coal mine is left unreclaimed up until the operation shuts down, requiring the producers to spend a significant amount of money restoring the land just as its revenue stream dries up, according to WORC.
“At some point, reclamation costs will overwhelm cash generated from dwindling coal sales. With rising costs and declining revenues, coal companies will likely again file for bankruptcy sometime during this process,” the report said.