America’s Coal Crisis Could Leave Mine Clean Up Behind

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It’s no secret that America’s coal industry is in trouble. But when mines close, there can be a lot of waste left behind.

Take the Fredericktown refuse pile in Pennsylvania. The nearby coal mine went bankrupt more than 70 years ago. The waste from the mine, including low quality coal scraps and defunct equipment, was left in this pile and abandoned. It’s not just unsightly; these abandoned mines can be dangerous, said Eric Cavazza with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. They can catch fire or leak dangerous pollutants into local water supplies.

But cleaning up an abandoned mine requires money. In Appalachia, mining companies pay into a fund that covers clean up.  That means if mining is down, so is the money for clean up.

Across the country in Wyoming, mining companies were required to set aside funding for clean up before the coal comes out of the ground. But several years ago, companies were given the option to self-bond. That means that a mining company could promise to pay for clean up based solely on its financial strength.

And now that several of those mining companies are either in bankruptcy or coming out of bankruptcy, the money for clean up has gotten tied up in court. In some cases, companies have struck deals on clean-up as part of their plans to exit bankruptcy. Leigh Paterson and The Allegheny Front’s Reid Frazier look at the problem of mine reclamation in the video above.