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On the Blogs: Long-Festering Mine-Cleanup Liabilities Demand an Honest Assessment of Their Origins

December 31, 2020

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Ken Ward Jr. for the Charleston (W.V.) Gazette-Mail:Earlier this week, The New York Times had the latest of the recent national stories to take a stab at explaining the impending crisis regarding the cleanup of decades of pollution problems related to coal mining. The Washington Post had its own version of this story a few months ago.It’s great that these issues are getting national attention. But this attention is long overdue. And one thing that is a bit worrisome is that there is a tone in the stories that sometimes makes it seem like this all came out of nowhere — that no one possibly could have imagined this crisis.That’s just not true.Part of the problem is the focus in the coverage on the issue of “self bonding,” in which mining companies basically promise they have the money available for cleanups, rather than actually posting insurance bonds that would fund reclamation if they went belly up. The real issue in my mind is less self-bonding, and more the simple nature of states being allowed to run permit programs based on bond “pools.” Rather than requiring full-cost bonds — surety of some sort to cover the actual projected reclamation costs — companies pay a per-acre bond that goes into a common pool. It’s no surprise to readers of this blog that the per-acre bonds never covered the actual reclamation costs, let alone long-term water treatment.And for many, many — many — years, environmental and citizen groups like the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy have been preaching that the bond pools (like West Virginia’s Special Reclamation Fund) didn’t have enough money — and would literally collapse if there were a collection of serious coal company bankruptcies.In West Virginia, state regulators have never forced mine operators to post bonds or otherwise obtain insurance that would cover the full cost of land reclamation or water treatment at their mines. Instead, operators post bonds in smaller amounts, or they “self bond” by showing regulators they are financially healthy.A “bond pool” or “special reclamation fund,” which also includes money from a reclamation tax on all mine operators, is used by Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Special Reclamation to clean up mine sites that are abandoned since passage of the 1977 federal strip-mining law. That bond pool itself has, for years, struggled with maintaining enough funds to pay to clean up mines left to the state’s supervision when companies go belly-up.It’s going to take a lot of work from smart people to find ways out of this mess — but one thing that is important in solving this and so many other coalfield issues is being honest about how the problems came to be.Full item: The looming coal cleanup crisis On the Blogs: Long-Festering Mine-Cleanup Liabilities Demand an Honest Assessment of Their Originslast_img

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