WV Abandoned Mine Lands Cleaned Up in 13 Years?
The State Journal
24 April 2012
By Pam Kasey
For those who read the Wall Street Journal last week, a graphic
showing that West Virginia could clean up its abandoned mine land
problems in 13 years might have seemed vastly more optimistic than
past reports — and in fact it was.
"It's not going to be done in 13 years," said Eric Coberly, chief
of abandoned mine lands and reclamation for the West Virginia
Department of Environmental Protection.
West Virginia was not the focus of the April 19 Wall Street
Journal article "States Mine Federal Funds Long After Need Is
Gone." The story was about how coal states that have finished
cleaning up mines abandoned before the 1977 Surface Mine Control
and Reclamation Act — reclaiming such problems as highwalls and
open portals — spend the revenues they still receive from the
industry for such clean-up.
But West Virginia was listed in a graphic among several states
where abandoned mine lands, or AML, programs are underfunded.
Kansas, the graphic showed, gets $3 million this year and will
take 76 years at that rate to complete its clean-up. Oklahoma's $3
million would finish the job in 28 years. Pennsylvania, receiving
$67 million this year, would need 25 years.
And West Virginia, receiving $67 million this year, would need 13
years to overcome the legacy of pre-1977 mining.
"But we don't get $66.5 million forever," Coberly said.
West Virginia is experiencing a peak now it its AML payouts, he
The state received $20 million to $25 million a year before a 2006
change in the way reclamation taxes are distributed to the states,
Coberly said. In 2008 and 2009, the state got about $40 million,
then about $50 million in 2010 and 2011. The current rate of about
$67 million is in place this year and next, and then it drops down
And that covers everything from program administration to chipping
away at the site inventory to emergencies, he said.
OSMRE estimates the total cost to clean up West Virginia's AML
inventory at $929 million and the total payout until the program
is set to end in 2022 at $627 million.
"So there's no end to it," Coberly said.
He said great progress has been made since he first joined the
section in 1984.
"In the '80s and even up into the mid-'90s, you could drive down
the main highway from Princeton to Welch and not have to get out
of the vehicle to write up millions of dollars worth of work," he
said. "Now you have to go up a holler somewhere to get into some
A mixed positive is that some highwalls that looked like high
priorities in the 1980s have since, without reclamation, sloughed
and been overgrown and no longer pose a threat.
Those represent a part of the $929 million clean-up estimate that
no longer needs attention, he said, acknowledging at the same time
what he said is probably a larger total cost of sites that never
appeared on the inventory.
Coberly doesn't worry about projected lower sales of West Virginia
coal affecting his program's funding.
Most program funding comes from sales of Wyoming coal. Just over
half of fees collected come from Wyoming, he said; West Virginia
contributes only 11 or 12 percent.