Funding is essential for cleaning AMD – but Ohio still needs to clean up its act regarding Reclamation Bonding program
Acid mine drainage (AMD) from Ohio’s unreclaimed coal mine sites has been Southeastern Ohio’s number one environmental and human health concern for decades. While laws passed in the 1970’s now require mining companies to return mined land to its original contours and to restore water quality, large piles of coal refuse have been left behind from previous strip mining.
However, thanks to increases in essential funding to pay for cleanup, coal country waters in Ohio will soon flow clearer. Ohio received $8.4 million in 2009, and will see, additionally, an expected $200 million over the next twelve years, to fund legacy coal mine cleanup projects in 27 counties in Ohio. Read the full story from today’s Dispatch.
The increase in funds will provide Ohio Department of Natural Resources (“ODNR”) with the resources it needs to restore the 36,000 acres of land damaged by underground and strip mining and the 1,000 miles of streams that have been polluted by sulfuric acid, dissolved metals and sediment that leach from old mines.
“Watershed groups in Appalachian Ohio, in conjunction with ODNR, have done exceptional work cleaning up our rivers and streams with a shoestring budget; the additional federal funding will galvanize the great work already being done.” Said Trent Dougherty, Director of Legal Affairs at the Ohio Environmental Council and Director of the Ohio Environmental Law Center.
However, federal dollars are not enough to solve all of Ohio’s coal mine woes. According to the United States Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (“OSM”), for more than 25-years Ohio has been unable to demonstrate that its alternative coal industry bonding system provides for timely reclamation of forfeiture sites, and this is attributable to insufficient bond and or inadequate revenue to support reclamation. Accordingly, OSM has initiated against Ohio its §733 process which requires the Ohio coal program under the ODNR to amend its program to be in compliance with federal laws and regulations or OSM will withdrawal approval of the state program.
Ohio needs to quickly fix these problems with bonding program, just to get up to the federal “floor” of minimum regulation under SMCRA. OELC would like to see a trend toward full cost bonding of coal reclamation.
The state uses a so-called “alternative bonding system” that allows mining companies to post lower, site-specific bonds tied to a particular mining operation and pay into a statewide bond pool that, in theory, would cover the difference between the lower bond and the amount needed to reclaim the mine site and treat pollution discharges in perpetuity.
Under full cost bonding, mining companies, NOT taxpayers, are required to come up with a way to guarantee more money to cover all the environmental damage they cause.
“ODNR should be working to bring the program into compliance, as requested by OSM, with or without the support of Coal Industry Lobby. While the division has made strides in the current administration, the end, we feel is in full cost bonding.” Dougherty added.