Dems Want Crackdown on Coal Mine Cleanup Funding

By:  Timothy Cama
Source: The Hill

Two Democrats introduced legislation Friday to crack down on what they see as a risky financial practice some coal mining companies use to comply with federal cleanup rules.

The bill, from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), would end the practice of self-bonding, in which a mining company can comply with federal law by certifying that it can clean up its mines in the future using its own financial returns.

Instead, a company would be limited to buying a traditional bond when it submits a mining application, or to reserve the entire amount of money it would need for cleanup.

It’s the latest attempt by Cantwell and Cartwright to crack down on self-bonding. For years, the two have fought the practice, citing a recent rash of bankruptcies in the mining industry to show that self-bonds cannot be trusted.

“As coal companies emerge from bankruptcy, we should act now to avoid the mistakes of the past,” Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. “That means coal companies need to set aside real resources for cleanup, not so-called ‘self-bonds’ that risk taxpayer dollars to clean up the mess these companies can leave behind.”

Cartwright said the bill “would ensure coal companies have assets available to pay for cleaning up their messes,” so that taxpayers wouldn’t be left to foot the bill.

The mining industry has opposed government attempts to crack down on self-bonding. Groups like the National Mining Association say that such proposals would be prohibitively expensive with no actual benefit to the environment or taxpayers.

Nonetheless, the Obama administration last year took steps to restrict self-bonding. The Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation told state regulators that they should not allow new self-bonds until the coal industry is in a more stable financial state, which regulators predicted could happen by 2021.

The same policy guidance last year, which isn’t binding or permanent, asked states to reevaluate their current self bonds to see if the companies were still compliant with the requirements.