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DEQ Strengthens Accountability For Mine Clean-Up Responsibilities

Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality logo
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality is changing how coal companies secure clean-up costs. For years, the department has accepted a kind of IOU based on a company’s financial strength. That’s called self-bonding.

Issues with self-bonding were highlighted in 2015 when several large coal companies went bankrupt, and were left without funds to cover reclamation costs.

The DEQ's proposal, a preliminary draft of the rule, would change how the department assesses a company’s financial fitness - looking at their actual credit ratings, and not their past balance sheets. 

Connie Wilbert, chair of the Wyoming Chapter of the Sierra Club, said it’s a step in the right direction.

“These proposed changes would hold companies directly responsible for their own clean-up costs by not allowing them to assign that responsibility to a subsidiary or distant company,” she said.

She said more accountability is good for the state as well by minimizing the risk to Wyoming taxpayers. 

Many wonder if the rule-change process is coming in response to the bankruptcy controversy in 2015. The DEQ said an updated version of the rule has been in motion since 2014. The preliminary draft will be brought in front of the Land Quality Advisory Board in early December in Gillette to receive feedback. A final version could be finalized as early as March of next year, though it could take longer. The rule hasn’t been updated since the early 1980s.

The Wyoming Mining Association said a rule-change was expected and is no cause for distress for mining companies. They look forward to the public input process.

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.

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