The collapse of the coal industry is devastating small communities across the Western United States, but reclaiming these mined lands quickly could create up to 4,800 full-time equivalent jobs per year in the critical two-to-three-year period after mine closure says a report released today by the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC). The report, “Coal Mine Cleanup Works,” estimates potential reclamation job creation for four Western coal states (Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, and North Dakota) and provides recommendations for decision makers to ensure cleanup is fully funded and employs the local workforce.
These findings advocating for a just economic transition offer an opportunity for Wyoming coal communities like that are facing lay-offs and lost revenue as the coal industry continues its decline. Reclamation is one of the few immediately available job opportunities for local workers after a mine shut down, and the report finds that these jobs are ideally suited for current or former miners.
The report estimates that the workforce needed to complete surface mine reclamation is between 4,893 and 9,786 job-years. End-of-life mine reclamation takes approximately two-to-three years to complete, meaning that between 1,631 and 4,893 full-time equivalent workers would be needed for each year of cleanup for the entire four-state area. For Wyoming specifically, an estimated 5,100 job-years would be needed, translating to 1,700 to 2,550 full-time jobs per year (depending on pace of cleanup).
“There are many potential jobs from coal mine reclamation, but it’s up to us, the citizens of Wyoming, to ensure that our lawmakers and regulators make the mines do the reclamation. As the coal market declines, and mines become less profitable, mine operators don’t like to spend the money on reclamation, so we need our regulators to enforce the rules,” said Stacy Page, Board member of Powder River Basin Resource Council and WORC and a former Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality regulator. “Furthermore, mine operators need to have financial assurances in place to complete reclamation in the event of forfeiture so that the cleanup burden isn’t on the Wyoming taxpayers.”
Although reclamation is required by law, a weakening coal industry may try to evade or delay their reclamation obligations, and existing policy loopholes only exacerbate the problem. “Coal Mine Cleanup Works” finds that delayed and underfunded reclamation is the biggest hurdle to getting laid-off miners back on the job doing cleanup work.
The report also takes a closer look at specific mines in the region, including the Eagle Butte and North Antelope Rochelle mine in Campbell County. (Case studies are attached.)
The report recommends several actions to minimize the risks of underfunded and delayed mine cleanup, and maximize the potential of hiring the impacted local workforce:
- End insufficient and insecure reclamation bonds
- Regulators must ensure that all cleanup liabilities are assumed by new mine owners and that new mine owners are poised to fulfill those obligations.
- State regulators need to be ready to seize bonds immediately when a mining company abandons its mines in order to initiate reclamation immediately.
- Federal and state authorities should work to accelerate the pace of contemporaneous reclamation at active mines.
- Federal, state, and local policymakers should institute policies that facilitate and incentivize local hiring for mine reclamation.
Coal Mine Cleanup Works is available on WORC’s website at www.worc.org/publication/reclamation-jobs-report/ .