Photo by Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.
Earlier this week, The New York Times had the latest of the recent national stories to take a stab at explaining the impending crisis regarding the cleanup of decades of pollution problems related to coal mining. The Washington Post had its own version of this story a few months ago.
Here’s a couple of the “nut graphs” from the Times piece:
Regulators are wrangling with bankrupt coal companies to set aside enough money to clean up Appalachia’s polluted rivers and mountains so that taxpayers are not stuck with the $1 billion bill.
The regulators worry that coal companies will use the bankruptcy courts to pay off their debts to banks and hedge funds, while leaving behind some of their environmental cleanup obligations.
The industry asserts that its cleanup plans — which include turning defunct mines back into countryside — are comprehensive and well funded. But some officials say those plans could prove unrealistic and falter as demand for coal remains weak.
The Post summarized the situation in a similar way:
A worsening financial crisis for the nation’s biggest coal companies is sparking concerns that U.S. taxpayers could be stuck with hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in cleanup costs across a landscape of shuttered mines stretching from Appalachia to the northern Plains.
Worries about huge liabilities associated with hundreds of polluted mine sites have mounted as Peabody Energy, the world’s largest publicly traded coal company, was forced to appeal to creditors for an extra 30 days to pay its debts. Two of the four other biggest U.S. coal companies have declared bankruptcy in the past six months.
Under a 1977 federal law, coal companies are required to clean up mining sites when they’re shut down. But the industry’s plummeting fortunes have raised questions about whether companies can fulfill their obligations to rehabilitate vast strip mines in Western states — many of which are on federally owned property — as well as mountaintop-removal mining sites in the East.
It’s great that these issues are getting national attention. But this attention is long overdue. And one thing that is a bit worrisome is that there is a tone in the stories that sometimes makes it seem like this all came out of nowhere — that no one possibly could have imagined this crisis.
That’s just not true.