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VA group looks at carbon-offset market to help reforest former mines

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Wednesday, November 29, 2023   

A Virginia group is working out ways to reforest former mines across Appalachia.

The state has several hundred thousand acres of mine land, which was being handled under the Virginia Department of Energy's Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization Program. But other groups feel reforesting mine lands can play a role in reducing global carbon levels.

Diana Dombrowski, carbon research fellow at Appalachian Voices, said this is the kind of project the carbon-offset market can invest in.

"They're interested in projects that not only are maybe more local, to where they're based, but also have an environmental justice perspective," Dombrowski explained. "When it comes to the work of reforesting mine land, we're aware of a need in central Appalachia."

The process begins with reclaiming the mine land, which could cost from $7.5 billion to almost $10 billion. But the carbon offset market made $277 billion last year, so it sounds possible. There also are other options available. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides almost $113 billion, appropriated for Virginia's Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund.

Reforesting former mining areas can help Virginia achieve its climate goals. The projects can add to resilience against storms for communities, and help keep air and soil healthy.

Dombrowski noted other challenges could come up, such as how to identify the best sites for reforesting projects.

"Designing a project that can plan for the most carbon sequestration," Dombrowski suggested. "Where you pick the best land versus a project where you are maybe running over an average, that maybe people will see in the public at large."

Since the work is in the earliest phases, other challenges could arise. Dombrowski pointed out one priority is to focus on environmental justice. She added if any projects turn a profit, the funds will be reinvested into the workforce or materials to keep the work going.

Disclosure: Appalachian Voices contributes to our fund for reporting on Energy Policy, Environment, and Environmental Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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