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Advocates from coal-impacted regions call on Biden to do more for communities 

The foreground is reclaimed mine land, with the active coal mine behind.
Wyoming Mining Assocation

Representatives from Navajo Nation, Appalachia and Wyoming held a meeting Tuesday to ask President Biden to appoint a director for the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE). The federal office oversees standards for mining site clean up and has sat empty for one and a half years.

The administration has allocated more than $11 billion to the Abandoned Mine Lands program, but advocates say that money cannot properly be managed and disbursed without a director.

“The crisis is the growing wave of mine operator bankruptcies, resulting in modern abandoned reclamation and environmental cleanup obligations,”Peter Morgan, an attorney with the Sierra Club Environmental Law program, said.

In recent years, six coal producers in Wyoming have filed for bankruptcy, which in some cases means the companies aren’t beholden to reclamation costs.

Lynne Huskinson is a former coal miner in Gillette, and she was laid off when Blackjewel filed for bankruptcy in 2019.

“Coal has provided Wyoming and the country with remarkable wealth, and coal does deserve recognition. But with an OSMRE director, we could move forward and go to the next phase of coal, the reclamation phase, and make the coal companies face the responsibilities.”

Sixteen coal-related projects did receive approval for reclamation in Wyoming last year.

The Tuesday meeting was preceded by the delivery of a petition to the U.S. Department of Interior with more than 2,200 signatures requesting Biden to appoint an OSMRE director.

The previous OSMRE director was Lanny Erdos, a Trump appointee, and he served in office for about six weeks.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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