Reclamation is what we need here in coal country. We need to reclaim our landscape, which has been irreparably transformed by the mining industry, yes. But in doing so innovatively, we can also reclaim economic opportunity for our people. We can reclaim a better quality of life, remembering our heritage as a resilient and creative people living in tune with our land. If we are smart, we can use the mineland reclamation process to shape a future in which Appalachia is no longer punished with economic and environmental oppression for having an abundance of natural resources. We can convert what are now major liabilities into community assets. We can leverage these new assets and do business with the rest of the country and world in a way that is fair and sustainable.
For decades now, the coal industry has been in steady decline. Today, there are fewer coal miners employed in the entire country than could fill West Virginia University’s football stadium. That our country is experiencing a profound transition in how we produce energy is undeniable. The question, then, is how to make this transition just for the people that have powered our country for generations? Step one is to ensure the people in mining communities are the ones shaping their own future. The projects highlighted in this report represent investable opportunities promising social, environmental, and financial returns. But these investments should be done with local people and not just for them.
The emphasis on innovative mineland reclamation is important too. Traditionally, the reclamation process has often been woefully inadequate, leaving behind soil as compacted as parking lots and seas of invasive plant species. The projects proposed herein offer a better way. This better way will create local jobs, attract new investment, and support community vision for renewal rather than thwart it.
Such work is particularly important here in West Virginia where 53 out of 55 counties are coal bearing. Being the second most coal-producing state in America, West Virginia’s body has borne the scars, ruptures, and losses that comes with the extraction of over 14.6 billion tons of coal. These wounds include 43 recognized project sites under the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program and thousands of other AML sites: dangerously dilapidated underground shafts, creeks that turn orange from acidic runoff, barren mountaintops, and a despairing workforce struggling to see the promise of a future. For these reasons, we pursue the charge of restoring the 352,000 acres of surface mining land in West Virginia. In doing so, we are putting our miners back to work through innovative reclamation. Since 2012, 11,225 miners have lost their jobs. We think of them every day and engage as many as we can in this renewal effort.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Division of Land Restoration has been a solid working partner under the leadership of Mr. Rob Rice. Another crucial West Virginia leader on these issues is Mr. Rick Buckley, Supervisory Program Specialist for the Office of Surface Mine Reclamation and Enforcement. It is strong collaboration from the grassroots to the highest levels of leadership that can truly advance a land restoration economy in Central Appalachia.
We look forward to learning more about these important issues alongside you.