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Report: Reclaiming Degraded Lands Could Help Fight Climate Change

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Wednesday, September 21, 2022   

Thousands of former mines, brownfield sites, and orphaned oil and gas wells are scattered across West Virginia, and a new report from the National Wildlife Federation highlights how cleaning up the land could help fight climate change.

Reforesting just 25% of abandoned mine lands could potentially trap around 232 metric tons of carbon each year, according to the report.

Anger Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said in addition to curbing greenhouse gas emissions, it would help protect homes by reducing flood and landslide risks.

"The better we restore those lands, the better we're protecting our communities from those types of costs and disasters," Rosser contended.

Ongoing research pointed to the biomass and soil on reclaimed lands as a sink for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. One West Virginia study found reclaimed mine soils captured 75% of carbon within the first decade of cleanup.

Rosser pointed out the unoccupied and once-hazardous land has the potential to help diversify local economies in the Mountain State after it is restored, through renewable energy development and outdoor recreation and tourism.

"What this comes down to is re-envisioning and transforming a community liability into a community asset," Rosser explained.

Jessica Arriens, program manager for climate energy policy at the National Wildlife Federation, predicted a surge of recent funding for cleaning up degraded lands will benefit both the health of communities and the climate.

"There's really historic investments coming to degraded lands reclamation," Arriens emphasized. "It's largely from the bipartisan infrastructure law that passed last year, that has something like $21 billion for abandoned mine lands, for orphan oil and gas wells, for Superfunds, and for brownfields."

The report calls on Congress to increase annual funding for nationwide Superfund site cleanup, emergency response and removal, and brownfield redevelopment.

Disclosure: National Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species and Wildlife, Energy Policy, and Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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