BILLION DOLLARS NEEDED TO RECLAIM WEST VIRGINIA'S ABANDONED MINES - State Still Hostage To King Coal

(04/27/2012)

By Bob Weaver

The Wall Street Journal published a graphic showing that West Virginia could clean up its abandoned mine problems in 13 years.

The reclamation started with the 1977 Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act, which began focusing millions of dollars annually to cleaning up hundreds of sites abandoned by West Virginia coal producers.

"It's not going to be done in 13 years," said Eric Coberly, chief of abandoned mine lands and reclamation for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

Coal has long had its way with West Virginia politicians, resulting in a failure to diversify away from the state's extractables and in more recent years approving the destruction of one thousand miles of streams, polluting the water and air as mountaintops are ripped away for coal.

Even this election year, Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin has joined Republicans to de-regulate environmental rules to save coal and has indicated he will vote for the Republican candidate Mitt Romney (although he doesn't like him that much.)

The Republican candidate in West Virginia's gubernatorial race, Bill Maloney, has called on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to actively oppose the environmental policies of the Obama administration, which he characterized as a "war on coal."

Republican driven efforts are on the front burner to eliminate regulations on coal, they say to save jobs, but are more likely to improve corporate bottom lines.

Dozens of bills have been introduced to neuter the EPA, which has been cast as a bureaucracy that has helped destroy the nation's economy.

Even the EPA and the MSA have been caught being in the pocket of King Coal.

West Virginian's have long been held hostage to the coal outfits.

West Virginia is receiving $67 million this year alone to overcome the legacy of mining.

The state received $20 million to $25 million a year before a 2006 change in the way reclamation taxes are distributed to the states.

In 2008 and 2009, the state got about $40 million, then about $50 million in 2010 and 2011. The current rate of about $67 million is in place this year and next, and then it drops down again.

"So there's no end to it," Coberly said, although progress has been made.

"In the '80s and even up into the mid-'90s, you could drive down the main highway from Princeton to Welch and not have to get out of the vehicle to write up millions of dollars worth of work," he said.

"Now you have to go up a holler somewhere to get into some sizable jobs."

He said it is a mixed positive that some high-walls that looked like high priorities in the 1980s have since, without reclamation, sloughed and been overgrown and no longer pose a threat.

WV coal producers have a long history of stripping and abandonment, bankrupting a company or selling assets to holding companies, but now say they are cleaning-up and restoring mountaintop removal sites.


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