Wildlife Bears the Brunt of Big Coal’s Failure to Reclaim Mined Lands

The era of Big Coal is fading. But coal proponents are still trying to hang on by pushing for new mines and markets overseas, all the while putting off cleaning up their messes in some of our most stunning landscapes and important wildlife habitat.

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Protect wildlife habitat like this from coal mines. Photo by Colin Ruggiero

Companies like Arch Coal are lying to themselves and the American public: Arch Coal stock is now at 51 cents a share. A year ago it was $3.50. In 2011, it was $33.50. Just this week, Peabody Energy Corporation, the world’s largest coal company, announced plans to lay off 250 workers and restructure operations in order to stay afloat amidst the tough market.

While companies struggle to wring the last few cents out of a declining coal market, they are shifting their financial obligations to clean up their mess to the shoulders of the American public, to the tune of over $3 billion. They must think they have nothing to lose, but you do – you lose your right to wild places and the wildlife that inhabit them.

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Pronghorn populations will decrease from increased coal mining. Photo from USFWS

Wildlife is bearing the brunt of energy development and Big Coal’s failure to reclaim mined lands. Mule deer, pronghorn antelope, sage grouse, elk and hundreds of bird species including eagles make their home in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana. Scientific data underlines the fact that habitat will continue to be degraded and populations of mule deer, pronghorn, and sage grouse will be unstable and highly likely to decline with continuing or increased energy development.

Amongst others, Alpha Natural Resources, one of the largest coal miners in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, has been informed by Wyoming regulators that it no longer meets the state’s self-bonding requirements. The requirements allow companies that meet certain financial criteria to pledge that they’ll reclaim the mined-out areas without having to pay the customary collateral. Now, without the state’s help, Alpha must ante up a whopping $411 million in the next 90 days to cover its reclamation obligations.

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Coal mining could cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Photo by Colin Ruggiero

In a new report, Undermined Promise II, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Western Organization of Resource Councils describe how the American public will be left to deal with the fallout from coal companies. Reclamation bonds that coal companies are required to post under federal law may outstrip the industry’s financial resources. Only 46 out of 450 square miles of mined land across Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota have been reclaimed. So, taxpayers may be stuck with a clean-up bill of roughly $2 billion in Wyoming alone. Overall, the tab on unreclaimed mined lands in the U.S. is in excess of $3.5 billon.

Western landscapes, agricultural lands, water and wildlife will also be permanently damaged. The fragile sage steppe environment of the West, home to the imperiled sage grouse, mule deer, pronghorns and hundreds of other species, may take decades to recover to pre-mining conditions.

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Coal mining is damaging important habitat like this Wyoming landscape. Photo from Ecoflight

State and federal governments must do more to hold coal companies accountable for the damage they’ve created by enhancing enforcement of the law that protects our lands, water, and wildlife.

Should you, an American taxpayer, and the wildlife that is part of your public trust, be left on the hook? Should our wildlife and wild places be destroyed for the profits of a few rich corporate executives? In the end, that’s up to you.

Tweet: Wildlife in trouble as coal companies fail to reclaim mined lands. Read the new @NWF report now: http://bit.ly/1dupRe8Tweet about NWF’s Undermined Promise II report now to spread the word about how coal companies’ failure to reclaim mined lands will harm wildlife.

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