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Mine closings present environmental threat as companies go bankrupt

Readers may be aware that the mining industry is currently experiencing significant financial challenges due to lack of demand. As a result, workers are being laid off, companies are filing for bankruptcy, and mines are being abandoned. Along with these mine closings, there is an increased risk to the environment.

As mines are increasingly abandoned, the risk of environmental pollution increases, which can impact local natural environments and populations. Mining companies, facing their own challenges, are not likely to take precautions to prevent possible pollution or clean it up. This is all the more likely given that mining companies are allowed to make promises to clean up abandoned mines without actually setting aside the funds necessary to do so. This practice is known as self-bonding.

Companies going through bankruptcy simply cannot afford to take on these cleanup projects, which means more and more abandoned mines are likely to sit and present risks to the surrounding environment. Although states have, in some cases, been able to collect some promised cleanup funding from bankruptcy mining companies, the amount of funds collected is typically well below what is necessary to actually complete cleanup projects.

The federal government is apparently attempting to address the problem by questioning states’ approval of the practice of self-bonding, which puts the public at risk of exposure to toxins. Unfortunately, for those who may be harmed by a bankrupt mining company’s failure to clean up a mining site, it may be more of a challenge that actually obtain compensation.

In a future post, we’ll continue looking at this issue.


Northwest GA News, “Mine environmental risk grows with bankruptcies in big coal,” May 19, 2016., “Coal industry staggered by collapse in demand,” David Conti, May 14, 2016. 

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