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WV Groups Sue DEP Over Feared Collapse of Mine Reclamation Fund

Environmental groups allege that West Virginia's Mine Reclamation Fund, which cleans up polluted land and water after coal mines close, is in jeopardy. (Wikimedia Commons)
Environmental groups allege that West Virginia's Mine Reclamation Fund, which cleans up polluted land and water after coal mines close, is in jeopardy. (Wikimedia Commons)

July 21, 2020

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A trio of environmental groups filed a suit in federal court late last week to force West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection to maintain a fund to clean up pollution left by abandoned coal mines.

The lawsuit aims to head off an anticipated collapse of the Special Reclamation Fund, according to Cindy Rank, chair of the mining committee with West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit. She said communities surrounding closed mines will suffer because the Fund doesn't have enough money to meet existing needs, let alone potential reclamation costs of other operators now facing bankruptcy.

"If the state isn't there to take care of this when the companies leave, then it falls upon the communities and the people who have to deal with polluted water or eroding hillsides, high walls and everything else," Rank said.

A letter sent this week from West Virginia's DEP to the federal enforcement office said the agency doesn't believe there is a problem with its reclamation program.

But the three groups, which also include the Sierra Club's West Virginia chapter and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, allege the agency failed to alert federal mine regulators that recent operator bankruptcies jeopardized the state's fund.

Rank said over the years, groups have prodded the state to improve funding for the program. But aside from a few tweaks, she said, it didn't live up to its promise.

"It's never been sufficient to really take care of all of the mine sites that are out there that may go belly up, may be left totally torn apart or oozing bad water into the streams, etc," she said.

According to a January report to the West Virginia Legislature, as of the end of September 2019, the program had almost $60 million. From 2008-2016 coal production dropped from 166 million tons to 85 million in West Virginia as hundreds of mines shut down, according to the West Virginia Coal Association.

Disclosure: West Virginia Highlands Conservancy contributes to our fund for reporting on Energy Policy, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Diane Bernard, Public News Service - WV