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Western states face huge cleanup liabilities from coal mining, new report finds
Western states face huge cleanup liabilities from coal mining, new report finds
Wyoming has a colossal cleanup project on its hands.
Wyoming has a colossal cleanup project on its hands.

About 83,000 acres of land sits unreclaimed by coal companies in the state — by far the most acreage among its Western peers, according to a new report published Friday by the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

“Western coal-producing states face a looming dilemma, and the costs could be huge,” said Bob LeResche, an editor of the report and board member of Powder River Basin Resource Council and the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

Throughout the West, over one-third of all land disturbed by strip-mining has yet to be reclaimed after a half-century of intensive extraction in the region. North Dakota and Montana follow the Equality State with 25,000 acres and 17,000 acres, respectively, in unreclaimed land from coal mining, the conservation group found. But Wyoming environmental regulators said despite significant cleanup still ahead, the state remains sufficiently protected and on track to complete all reclamation obligations.

Mounting cleanup liabilities come at a time when the energy sector is undergoing an unprecedented shift away from coal production. It’s left the country’s largest mines, many in Wyoming, struggling to stay afloat financially. Last year, coal production in Wyoming sank by 10 percent compared to 2018 levels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Since 2015, Wyoming has been jolted by six coal company bankruptcies.

A domino of coal-fired power plant closures nationwide has depressed demand for thermal coal. Natural gas has nudged coal aside with its cheap prices. Commercially viable renewables have rapidly entered the market and placed greater pressure on coal, too.

These market shifts leave coal companies financially vulnerable and at risk of foundering on reclamation liabilities in the future, the report concluded.

“Today’s coal industry is undercapitalized and at great financial risk from declining coal demand, and it is dangerously undiversified,” LeResche said. “But coal companies are responsible for cleanup of over 230 square miles of Western land and counting.”
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Western states face huge cleanup liabilities from coal mining, new report finds
Western states face huge cleanup liabilities from coal mining, new report finds
Wyoming has a colossal cleanup project on its hands.
Wyoming has a colossal cleanup project on its hands.

About 83,000 acres of land sits unreclaimed by coal companies in the state — by far the most acreage among its Western peers, according to a new report published Friday by the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

“Western coal-producing states face a looming dilemma, and the costs could be huge,” said Bob LeResche, an editor of the report and board member of Powder River Basin Resource Council and the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

Throughout the West, over one-third of all land disturbed by strip-mining has yet to be reclaimed after a half-century of intensive extraction in the region. North Dakota and Montana follow the Equality State with 25,000 acres and 17,000 acres, respectively, in unreclaimed land from coal mining, the conservation group found. But Wyoming environmental regulators said despite significant cleanup still ahead, the state remains sufficiently protected and on track to complete all reclamation obligations.

Mounting cleanup liabilities come at a time when the energy sector is undergoing an unprecedented shift away from coal production. It’s left the country’s largest mines, many in Wyoming, struggling to stay afloat financially. Last year, coal production in Wyoming sank by 10 percent compared to 2018 levels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Since 2015, Wyoming has been jolted by six coal company bankruptcies.

A domino of coal-fired power plant closures nationwide has depressed demand for thermal coal. Natural gas has nudged coal aside with its cheap prices. Commercially viable renewables have rapidly entered the market and placed greater pressure on coal, too.

These market shifts leave coal companies financially vulnerable and at risk of foundering on reclamation liabilities in the future, the report concluded.

“Today’s coal industry is undercapitalized and at great financial risk from declining coal demand, and it is dangerously undiversified,” LeResche said. “But coal companies are responsible for cleanup of over 230 square miles of Western land and counting.”



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