In the eight months between August 2015 and April 2016, the three largest coal companies
in the United States all filed for bankruptcy: Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, and Alpha Natural
Resources. Between them, they had pledged $2.3 billion of self-bonds in support of mine
cleanup, known as “reclamation.”
Coal companies are required by law to provide reclamation bonds so regulators will have
access to funds to complete reclamation if a company were to abandon its mine without
doing so. But self-bonds are more like an unenforceable “I.O.U.” than a reliable bond. Were
a self-bonded coal company to abandon unreclaimed mined lands, the public would be
left holding the bag to complete the work. Some states accept self-bonds to back coal
mine reclamation, while others do not.
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