Cattle graze at Peabody Energy's Caballo mine in the Powder River Basin. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

by Wendy Lowe

Bob LeResche’s recent column, Alpha’s woes highlight need to reclaim coal mines was so inaccurate and misleading it begs a response.

“Self-bonding” as it is termed in the Wyoming Environmental Quality Act, is more than a mere promise, just like a mortgage is more than a mere promise. The assertion of a lack of reclamation in Wyoming could not be further from the truth (unless one creates their own definitions). If one reads the definitions in the law and follows the facts, it is clear that reclamation is not lagging in Wyoming. Reclamation is, in fact, an ongoing process occurring at the same time as active mining operations. It is an integral part of mining in America.

Furthermore, the reclamation processes at Wyoming’s mines have been recognized having earned local and national awards.

One company’s troubles are the tip of the iceberg? Hardly. The State of Wyoming has a robust program for self-bonding. It scrutinizes and audits the self-bonding program annually. It has been doing this for years.

The writer’s opinions miss the mark on the purpose of the bonds, especially in Wyoming. If his organization had done proper rather than skewed research, they would learn that reclamation performance bonds do not go away with rapid reclamation. These bonds are with Wyoming mines until the very end; until all coal is extracted and all land is reclaimed. In Wyoming, many of us live by the motto of leaving the land better than when we found the land. This is more than a requirement of the Environmental Quality Act, it is the philosophy of our coal mines and mine reclamation managers. One has but to travel the Powder River Basin to see the extensive acreage of improved habitat on land which has been reclaimed following mining.

The amount of land reclaimed continues to grow, each and every year. Reclamation can and does progress at significant rates each year. Bond release activities or lack thereof, do not reflect a lack of reclamation or absence of reclamation success. Reclamation requirements for mined land are meticulous and comprehensive. There is a minimum of 10 years before reclaimed mine land can be considered for release from bonding requirements.

To understand reclamation performance bonding in Wyoming is to understand that the incentive to reclaim comes from permit requirements, regulatory inspections and responsible mine management.

The fact is that reclamation is part of a heavily regulated and ongoing process of mining in the Powder River Basin. Mining cannot occur without reclamation. The bond release process, on the other hand involves many other strategic and logistical issues involving a number of agencies, landowners and processes. One should not confuse the two. If one were to engage in meaningful discussions and learning in Wyoming (what better venue is there in the world to learn about coal mining and reclamation, including bonding) you might be surprised, maybe even proud of the fact that successful reclamation processes here in Wyoming are recognized as among the best processes in the world.

It is a common tactic of those heavily opposed to America’s coal mines to deliberately mislead the public with self-serving arguments in support of their goals.

The actual facts remain. Regardless of the fervent desires of the extreme environmental movement, Wyoming coal miners will proudly continue to mine coal every day and ship to power plants across the country. They will continue to provide America’s energy and continue with outstanding reclamation practices until the job is finished.

— Wendy H. Lowe, chairwoman of the Wyoming Coal Information Committee, is a lobbyist specializing in the energy field. She has more than 30 years experience in the legislative, regulatory and communications arena in Wyoming.

Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

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