Two-thirds of Tennessee coal mine permits are in bond forfeiture


Abandoned coal mines can pollute the environment and endanger nearby residents.

Old coal mines often look like vast wastelands, stripped of anything living.

Mines pollute air and water and can increase flood risks to nearby communities. Because of that impact, land restoration is required by the federal government after coal companies retire a site. But that has not been happening at most mines in Tennessee. 

More than two-thirds of Tennessee coal mine permits are in bond forfeiture, according to documents obtained by the Sierra Club. 

In total, 59 out of 86 coal mine permits in the state are in bond forfeiture, meaning the coal mining companies do not have the funds needed to clean up their messes. 

“When they accepted the permits to mine the coal and profit from the coal, they accepted the obligation to clean up,” said Peter Morgan, senior attorney at the Sierra Club. “These bond forfeiture notices are an indication that they are in the process of breaking that promise.

The other problem is that the bonds are usually not enough to cover the costs of land restoration — an issue known for decades by state and federal officials — and many coal companies are bankrupt. In West Virginia, an investigation by Mountain State Spotlight and ProPublica found that taxpayers could get stuck with the costs of coal cleanup.

Coal mining is widely considered a dying industry. However, a company called Hurricane Creek Mining has proposed a new, 700-acre surface coal mine in Claiborne County in East Tennessee.

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