Nearly three million acres of US land – an area the size of the state of Connecticut – lies under some form of coal mining permit. Much of this is cratered with giant pits or burrowed under by long mining tunnels.
But what happens when these mines shut down?
On Thursday, CHN published the following stories.
- Coal mine clean-up is critically underfunded, particularly in Appalachia
- The near-eradication of a dangerous practice of self-insurance has been put in jeopardy by Trump’s regulatory rollbacks
- Mine inspections are falling, pollution incidents number in their thousands and Obama’s mine enforcement chief says the federal agency will soon be so understaffed it will no longer be able to do its job
In a second round of stories, we looked back over a decade of government reports to find out what happens to the land after coal mines close? And how coal tycoon governor Jim Justice uses a loophole to leave mines and workers idle.
A supposedly fail-safe system governs mines’ legal obligation to reclaim their local environment. Companies put up money to be held in bonds. If the company cleans up after operations are complete, the money is returned. But if the company walks away, the government can use the bonds to rehabilitate the land.
But does this work in practice? To find out, Climate Home News built first-of-their-kind databases, scouring public records for months and submitting dozens of records requests.
A picture emerged of a system incapable of dealing with large-scale bankruptcies, amid a declining industry, which severely threatens the environment and future of coal-mining communities across the country.
All of the data collected by CHN, for more than 5,000 mining permits, is published below. Along with an explanation of how to use this data.
- US-wide reclamation bonds database
- Federal reclamation information
- Post-mining land use, incident and inspection database
This series was supported by grants from the McGraw Center for Business Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources (IJNR) and the European Climate Foundation.
All photos unless otherwise credited: Mark Olalde
Video production: Jill Russo
Research assistant: Frank Matt
Graphics: Skye Moret
Editing: Megan Darby and Karl Mathiesen
Credits: Wyoming drone footage Skyplex Video Productions, West Virginia drone footage by Coal River Mountain Watch, West Virginia aerial photography made possible by SouthWings, Wyoming aerial photography made possible by LightHawk.