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Environmental groups call on feds to step in on Ohio coal bonding

Environmental groups have asked federal officials to act on "widespread violations" of U.S. mining laws in Ohio.

The state removed $5 million from the Ohio Reclamation Forfeiture Fund for use in its general budget, potentially leaving taxpayers on the hook to pay for mine cleanups if a coal company goes bankrupt or otherwise is unable to complete the task, the Sierra Club and the Ohio Environmental Council wrote in a June 18 release. The groups said they formally requested that the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement take immediate action to instruct mines to secure alternative forms of financial assurances or immediately stop mining coal.

Any mine relying on the fund is therefore conducting surface coal mining operations without sufficient reclamation bonding as required by the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act and the Ohio Surface Mining Act, the request states.

The groups initiated a citizen complaint and request for inspection and enforcement action over insufficient bonding for Ohio coal companies participating in the fund. According to the complaint, the majority of Ohio's mines participate in the program.

"Independent actuaries determined that the fund needs at least $25 million, and the governor's decision leaves only $21 million," Neil Waggoner, Ohio campaign representative for the Sierra Club, said in the release.

The fund could potentially be liable for $539.9 million in reclamation costs should every mine operator forfeit permits simultaneously, the Sierra Club said.

Representatives of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Gov. John Kasich's office and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement did not immediately respond to a request for comment.