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Cartwright Bills Will Protect American Taxpayers, Clean Up ‘Zombie’ Coal Mines

The Coal Cleanup Taxpayer Protection Act and Bond Improvement and Reclamation Assurance Act Will Ensure Accountability and Safeguard Communities

Today, U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright (PA-08) introduced a pair of bills to help ensure accountability and save taxpayers millions by addressing and preventing “zombie mines,” idled modern-era mines that have not been cleaned up by irresponsible coal companies.

The Coal Cleanup Taxpayer Protection Act, co-led by Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (MI-06), will help ensure coal companies restore mine lands across the country to their original state after mining operations cease.  

The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) was supposed to ensure that mines would not be abandoned without sufficient funding available to clean up and reclaim them. Typically, these funds would be made available in the form of bonds provided by the mine operator as part of the initial permitting process. If the mine operator failed and did not restore a mine to usable land, the bond would be forfeited, providing the state with enough money to cover the cost of cleanup.

However, loopholes within SMCRA have allowed too many mine operators to fail to put down bonds equal to cleanup costs. This means coal mine operators have been able to avoid responsibility and costs required for cleaning up their mines once those mines are closed.

Cartwright’s Coal Cleanup Taxpayer Protection Act eliminates reckless self-bonding practices and requires operators to put down the full cost required for cleanup of their mines. Currently, self-bonding allows coal companies to promise to cover these cleanup costs without putting up sureties or collateral, leaving regulators with little to no recourse if a coal company goes bankrupt and forcing the American people to fund unfinished cleanup efforts. The bill also tightens rules on other types of bonding that have been shown to leave taxpayers paying for cleanup costs.

“We’ve seen way too many coal companies file for bankruptcy and break their promise to clean up mine sites after they’ve made their profits, leaving the American people on the hook to foot the bill,” said Congressman Cartwright, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. “These idled and abandoned mines also prevent economic development and pose environmental dangers.”

“If you build it, it should be your responsibility to take it down and clean it up,” said Congresswoman Dingell. “Non-operating, defunct mines continue to negatively impact our water, air and lakes, and it shouldn’t be on the taxpayer to foot the bill to clean up these sites. I’m glad to join Congressman Cartwright to introduce the Coal Cleanup Taxpayer Protection Act to put an end to this harmful practice.”

This legislation is endorsed by the Alliance for Appalachia, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, Appalachian Voices, Citizens Coal Council, Earthjustice, Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR), Friends of the Cheat, National Wildlife Federation, Powder River Basin Resource Council, Sierra Club, The Lands Council, Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action, Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), and the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.

“The whole idea of self-bonding, as it stands today, is a loophole and a farce,” said Bob LeResche, board member of the Powder River Basin Resource Council and the Western Organization of Resource Councils. “We appreciate Congressman Cartwright’s efforts to   prepare for coal company bankruptcies and the permanent closure of coal mines by tightening the rules for self-bonding. Coal companies should not be allowed to offload mine cleanup costs onto taxpayers and states.”

Full text of the bill can be found here.

Cartwright’s Bond Improvement and Reclamation Assurance Act, also introduced today, goes one step further in tackling bonding issues by requiring regulators to consider important financial and environmental factors when calculating and recalculating bond amounts, specifically:

   ·  anticipated length of mine operations;

   ·  inflation rates;

   ·  long-term water pollution treatment needs;

   ·  anticipated coal market conditions;

   ·  the cost of reclamation if performed by the regulatory authority.

This legislation is endorsed by the Alliance for Appalachia, Appalachian Citizens' Law Center (ACLC), Appalachian Voices, Powder River Basin, Sierra Club and Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC).

"In the last few years in Kentucky, we've seen several mine permits abandoned by the coal operator with inadequate bond amounts,” said Rebecca Sheldon, director of Policy for the ACLC. “We’re so grateful for Congressman Cartwright's leadership in ensuring that mines have reclamation bonds that are sufficient to cover the costs of cleanup. Our regions deserve clean water and reclaimed land so that we can live safely and transition these sites into new opportunities."

"We applaud Congressman Cartwright's dedication and leadership to ensure that coal mines are cleaned up, and to ensure that taxpayers aren't paying for coal mining reclamation,” said Chelsea Barnes, director of Government Affairs and Strategy for Appalachian Voices.  “Everyone deserves to have clean water and to be safe in their homes; the Congressman's bills are crucial measures to ensure coal companies aren't leaving mining communities to deal with their messes."

Full text of the bill can be found here.