By Brian Sewell
A series of recent actions by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement reflect the realities of the coal industry’s precarious financial position and the profound impacts mining has on nearby communities.
In August, the agency began a rulemaking process to strengthen regulations on self-bonding, a practice that allows coal companies to use their financial history to insure the cost of restoring the land after mining, rather than requiring collateral or a more secure bond.
Self-bonding has come under intense scrutiny as some of the nation’s largest coal companies have gone bankrupt while responsible for billions of dollars in unfunded mine cleanup costs. Goals for the reforms include modified eligibility standards and third-party review of companies’ financial statements.
Earlier that month, the agency announced that it will fund a $1 million review by the National Academy of Sciences of current research on the links between surface coal mining and human health risks. The move was applauded by environmentalists and public interest groups, but described as long overdue.
Two dozen peer-reviewed studies dating back to 2007 have found correlations between mountaintop removal coal mining and increased rates of cancer, heart and respiratory diseases, and other negative health outcomes in surrounding communities.