Jim Sconyers: End of coal will bring legacy of pain for us all (Gazette Mail)

We see the coal industry going into a tailspin. Mines are closing, miners are being laid off with little or no prospect of being hired back. State tax receipts have nosedived because we historically put way too many eggs in the coal basket.

Coal companies rush to declare bankruptcy, so they can wiggle out of their pension and health care commitments to present and retired workers.

But don't think this is only going to be painful for coal workers. We are all going to share in the financial pain — pain that could become extreme to say the least.

The short version: Inadequate reclamation bonds by the coal companies are one more item forfeited when the company goes belly up. The bond is completely inadequate for the reclamation required, but the company and/or its bond and permit no longer exist. By law, the state Department of Environmental Protection takes over the reclamation — and even then the work is often inadequate and the pollution continues.

This is the tip of a terrifying iceberg.

It's a lose-lose.

The Legislature and DEP have painted themselves and the citizens into an untenable corner. The Legislature has recklessly allowed pathetically inadequate bonding among their largesse to King Coal, and the DEP desperately tries to avoid the bullet of ultimate responsibility for reclamation.

But the courts remind the DEP that, sorry, you ARE now responsible for reclamation at the defunct mine. There are already many existing mines where this scenario is playing out, and many more are being added as one coal company after another closes up shop.

But the law requires that the reclamation be done. In many situations the polluting mine will need ongoing work — possibly for decades.

And the outcome is predictable. Citizens will be presented with bills for billions of dollars — yes, that's billions.

Will this be the straw that breaks the state? Will West Virginia become the next Puerto Rico, unable to pay its obligations but required to do so?

Legacy — this is our legacy from a Legislature always eager to give away the farm to King Coal, with catastrophic financial consequences that should have been all too obvious at the time.

I'm an elderly senior citizen. Maybe these chickens won't all come to roost in my lifetime. But they will in yours.

- Jim Sconyers, of Terra Alta, is president of WV Energy Savers.


By Bob Weaver (2004)

The number of coal mine sites that have been abandoned by coal companies in need of urgent reclamation is on the rise.

Acknowledged sites needing reclamation are in the hundreds, but various environmental groups say they may run well over a thousand.

State regulators say they won't know how much federal money will be available this year to reclaim them.

The companies, bankrupting and closing, have long declined to use their resources to clean-up, the job being left to taxpayers.

The federal clean-up money comes from the Abandoned Mine Lands trust fund.

Ken Ellison, director of the Division of Land Restoration says the state needs at least $733 million dollars to do all the reclamation work needed on sites that are listed as top priorities. Those are sites where human health and safety are in danger.

Few companies have been held accountable when they pulled out of their mine operations.

(Since this story, continuing and more recent site abandonment has vastly expanded the acreage and costs)

Hur Herald from Sunny Cal
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