Coal Tattoo

Will Tomblin, Legislature fix mine cleanup fund?

Ry Rivard has an important story at the top of the front page of today’s Daily Mail, reporting:

Coal companies should pay more to help clean up forsaken mine sites in West Virginia, the board overseeing state mine reclamation money said Monday.

The state Department of Environmental Protection’s Special Reclamation Advisory Council voted unanimously to recommend the state nearly double a mine reclamation tax on coal companies.

The story continues:

The proposed reclamation tax increase, which has to be approved by the Legislature, would add to the money the state now receives to clean up mine sites when mining companies don’t.

The state currently collects about $21 million a year from the reclamation tax, which is levied on each ton of coal produced in the state. This tax is different from the state’s much larger severance tax on coal, which is expected to raise about $400 million this year for the state and funds numerous programs.

If the increase were approved, the reclamation tax would go from 14.4 cents per ton to 27.9 cents. That would bring in an additional $17.4 million next year to clean up mine lands, a DEP spokeswoman said.

West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney, who is also a member of the reclamation fund advisory council, said nobody likes to see tax increases but the tax has to be raised to help keep reclamation funds solvent. Costs to the state for cleaning up mine sites is rising because, among other things, a 2011 court agreement requires the state to comply with stricter environmental standards than before.

“When all of these things come together, it just had to be done,” Raney said.

We’ve reported many times on the huge financial problems facing the state’s special reclamation program (see here, here, here and here) and, of course, the question now is whether Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and legislative leaders will listen to the advisory council. Last year, the Legislature did nothing, at least in part because the administration did not back the advisory council’s recommendation to increase the tax.

Stay tuned …