New report finds significant cleanup needed at coal mines in the East


Erin Savage – Senior Program Manager at Appalachian Voices,, 206-769-8286

A new report estimates that 633,000 acres on mines still held by coal companies in the East require some degree of reclamation, at an estimated total cost of $9.8 billion dollars. The report, which covers mines across Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama, also found that reclaiming these mines over the next 10 years could provide 2,300 to 4,500 jobs annually.

In recent months, several proposals from Congress and the Biden administration have been put forth to address specifically “Abandoned Mine Lands,” which closed before 1977, when the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act was passed. Subsequently, coal companies were required to reclaim mining sites, and provide reclamation bonds to ensure cleanup in the event of company failure. But serious flaws to this system are now resulting in a new wave of abandoned mines.

The report, “Repairing the Damage: The cost of delaying reclamation at modern-era mines,” is based on currently available public data from state and federal mining agencies, and was researched and written by Erin Savage, Senior Program Manager at Appalachian Voices, in collaboration with the Ohio River Valley Institute and Reimagine Appalachia. The Ohio River Valley Institute published the first two of four reports in the “Repairing the Damage” series, which characterize the amount and cost of work to be done on pre-1977 Abandoned Mine Land reclamation and gas well remediation. A final report on the cleanup of coal ash ponds at coal fired power plants will be released later this summer.

Today’s report is one of the first comprehensive analyses specifically of mines that have closed or been idled since 1977. While much of this reclamation may still be completed by the coal companies, reclamation at many mines has stalled as companies idle mines due to poor market conditions.

The report determined the total bonds available across the seven-state region amount to $3.8 billion dollars — far below the likely outstanding cost. If multiple coal companies begin forfeiting bonds, some states may not have sufficient funds to cover reclamation.

The report urges regulatory agencies to improve assessments of outstanding reclamation liability in each state. It also recommends improving bond coverage and strengthening requirements for timely reclamation, and suggests how the federal government could implement a program to assist states with reclamation of mines that have already been forfeited by coal companies.

“We have known for many years that many coal companies are delaying reclamation and that state bonding systems may not be providing sufficient coverage for reclamation costs, but we haven’t been able to quantify the problem properly. At this point, it’s imperative that state mining agencies and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement work together to determine the outstanding cost and amount of reclamation mines still held by coal companies. In the meantime, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to provide this analysis to the public, based on the best currently available data,” Savage said.