Who Gets Stuck When Mines Fail?

There has been another development as we inch forward to a solution to the problem of how to reclaim failing mines.  The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the Sierra Club, and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition have sued the federal Office of Surface Mining to force it to be more active in the search for a solution.

            The big picture is that mining reclamation is supposed to be assured by having companies post a bond.  The bonds, which are designed to inadequate, are supposed to be backstopped by the West Virginia’s Special Reclamation Fund which pays the cost of reclamation when bonds are inadequate.  The difficulty is that the Special Reclamation Fund is also underfunded, leaving a real question of how mines will be reclaimed.  For more details on how this all works, see the April, 2021, May, 2020, August, 2020, and December, 2020, issues of The Highlands Voice, https://www.wvhighlands.org/highlands-voice-mag/ , and https://www.wvhighlands.org/2021/01/04/2020/.

            The most recent action is that these three groups have sued the Office of Surface Mining.  West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection had previously made a change in how it administers its Special Reclamation Fund.  Since the law requires that West Virginia inform the Office of Surface Mining of such changes, the groups sued West Virginia to require it to give the Office of Surface Mining notice of the change.  At the time, the groups had both hoped and expected the Office of Surface Mining to step forward and help solve this problem.

            The Office of Surface Mining has not stepped forward to solve the problem.  The groups ask that the Office of Surface Mining be ordered to make a determination that West Virginia’s program is not working and must be fixed.  More broadly, the groups hope that the Office of Surface Mining will take whatever action is necessary to address this problem and work toward a solution that assures that mining reclamation will be completed.