A new report has found that approximately 206 square miles of land from 14 Wyoming coal mines has been disturbed. However, only 2.4% of that land has been fully reclaimed.
On July 10, 2018 the Powder River Basin Resource Council (Resource Council) published a report titled Reclaim Wyoming: Prioritize Coal Mine Reclamation, which tracked reclamation statistics from these 14 coal mines.
“In an economic downturn, if contemporaneous coal reclamation is a priority, as it should be, miners will not be laid off as quickly because there is still important work to do,” said Joyce Evans, Resource Council Chair. “Reclamation jobs are good jobs and ensure that the mine workers will have employment for several more years, no matter what happens with the coal markets. Plus, coal miners already have the skills needed for successful reclamation.”
Her words echo the thinking of former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer. Back in 2006, Schweitzer launched his Montana Restoration Economy initiative, with help from REVITALIZATION publisher Storm Cunningham, author of The Restoration Economy. Three years later, they issued this landmark report, documenting the economic growth and job-creating power of restorative development.
The report investigated why the rate of reclamation is slow even though state and federal law requires it to take place alongside active coal mining. The report also highlights the economic benefits of increased reclamation efforts.
“Reclamation takes a lot of time and money and as much as possible needs to be completed while mines are profitable. Waiting until the end of a mine’s life adds risk that reclamation may not meet the required standards and could become a burden to the state, counties, and companies,” said Stacy Page, a Resource Council member and former regulator involved in reclamation.
The Resource Council found several reasons why mine reclamation lags behind production, and identified solutions. The report proposes three recommendations to improve reclamation rates. First, it recommends ending the practice of self-bonding to ensure that companies are financially invested in completing reclamation activities. Self-bonding is not a financial guarantee but rather a promise to pay from the company.
Second, the report recommends establishing a firm definition of the “long-term mining or reclamation facilities” to reduce the amount of land that companies can delay reclaiming. Last, the report calls for increased enforcement of contemporaneous reclamation requirements by state and federal regulators so that reclamation happens as it should, and more jobs are created.
Reclamation is a key factor in diversifying and stabilizing Wyoming’s economy. To fully reclaim all of the eligible disturbed acres will require many years of work, which would keep miners working right in their communities during downturns. For communities heavily dependent on coal, reclamation can help ease the boom-and-bust cycle until new industries are established.