The Sierra Club has filed a citizen complaint with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, asking the agency to suspend permits for bankrupt coal miner Alpha Natural Resources.
In a letter, the Sierra Club wrote that Alpha should not be allowed to continue mining without having assurances that it can cover its substantial clean-up costs. In May, Wyoming regulators took away Alpha’s right to self-bond. That is essentially a promise to pay for clean-up down the road, without having to put aside any money. Under state statute, companies have 90 days to replace their self-bonds with other forms of payment like cash or a surety bond. If they don’t, regulators “shall suspend or revoke the license of the operator to conduct operations."
But the DEQ’s Land Quality Administrator, Kyle Wendtland, says that requirement is superseded by an order from the bankruptcy court.
"Impeding their operations is one of those things we cannot do, according to the order,” Wendtland said.
The order does prohibit the state from taking any adverse action with respect to Alpha's mining permits. But the Sierra Club says without money in hand, taxpayers could be left on the hook for Alpha’s mine clean up costs.
“Nobody has had to pay a penny yet, for this, out of the public, for this reclamation. The position that the agency is taking here is that the process is working the way the process is supposed to work,” Wendtland said.
Alpha has over $400 million in estimated clean-up costs. The state recently reached an agreement with the bankrupt coal company that would prioritize the repayment of roughly 15 percent of that total.