"West Virginians Could Get Stuck Cleaning Up the Coal Industry’s Messes"

"The state’s program for reclaiming abandoned coal mines has long been plagued with problems, but state and federal officials have done little to prepare for this reckoning. "

"West Virginia’s fund to clean up abandoned coal mines is in such dire shape that it threatens to stick taxpayers with hundreds of millions — perhaps even billions — of dollars in cleanup costs. And yet, little is being done to turn things around.

The bankruptcy of just one significant mining company could wipe out the fund, according to the state’s top regulatory official. And auditors for the Republican-controlled Legislature said at least five major companies were “at risk” of dumping cleanup costs on the state.

At $15 million, the state’s fund for restoring land is at its lowest level in more than 20 years. The program’s latest published actuarial report in 2022 warned that a related water cleanup trust fund will lose half its balance over the next 10 years.

These are costs the coal industry was supposed to cover. Unreclaimed mine sites can not only damage the environment but also endanger coalfield residents who live nearby. Coal waste dams sometimes leak or break, flooding downstream communities. Cliffs of rock and debris left behind after mining can collapse. Runoff that isn’t contained or treated often poisons fish or water supplies."

Ken Ward Jr. reports for the Mountain State Spotlight (copublished with ProPublica) December 1, 2023.

Source: Mountain State Spotlight, 12/04/2023