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Reclaiming Reclamation: Rule Changes Proposed To Ensure Coal Companies Fund Mandatory Clean-Ups

By Taylor Mayhall. Full text here.

More than fifty U.S. coal mining companies have gone bankrupt since 2012. When a coal mining company goes bankrupt, its ability to clean up, or reclaim, its mines becomes questionable, and the burden may end up falling on taxpayers. This Note addresses the struggle to hold U.S. coal mining companies financially responsible for mandatory reclamation under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Specifically, this Note looks at a problematic, widely-used type of reclamation bond called a “self-bond,” which allows companies to essentially self-insure reclamation on the assumption of future solvency. This Note reviews the relevant law, then addresses the March 2016 Petition for Rulemaking by environmental group Wild Earth Guardians which asked for an end to certain self-bonding practices. The arguments of each main stakeholder, as expressed in the subsequent comment period held by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, are considered. Finally, the Note offers a look at future actions that could be taken at the federal agency, state, and legislative levels, and argues that a combination of federal rule changes and state agency action would be the best outcome.