Dakota Resource Council
Dakota Resource Council (DRC) has worked on issues of reclamation on land used for coal mining in North Dakota for decades. We believe in continuing this legacy as time moves forward. Land reclamation, after mining, is the process of restoring coal stripped land so it can be used for other purposes. According to the Public Service Commission (PSC) in North Dakota, out of 144,000 acres permitted since the 1970s only “over 27,000” have been completely released from their bond. This means that over half of the land permitted for coal mining has not been released to be used for its prior purpose or by surrounding communities. A bond is a legal agreement that holds the coal company responsible to return the land to state reclamation standards.
North Dakota is unique in that we have a law that requires land used for coal mining be returned to 100% of the prior productivity of its previous use such as farming or ranching. This high standard was created to protect our land and landowner operations. However, the law hasn’t worked how it was intended and coal companies have very little incentive to reach this standard. Currently, DRC is working on two components of land reclamation, timeliness, and quality.
The population in Mercer, McLean, and Oliver counties is roughly 20,000 people. The mines and powerplants in the area provide approximately 2,000 jobs. As more coal power plants reach their life expectancy and coal production becomes less economical, additional plant closures are likely. The impact on these communities will be devastating if there isn’t a plan in place to help the transition. Not only do these communities rely on the jobs in the coal industry directly, but also indirectly through contract workers and tax revenue which funds schools, local businesses, transportation, and other community needs. DRC is committed to working with community members to make sure that the communities that rely on one industry are planning for the future.
One of the challenges facing North Dakota when it comes to land reclamation is that North Dakota still accepts self-bonding. According to the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), a self-bond is “a promise to pay for required coal mine cleanup (“reclamation”) without providing any collateral.” If the mine was abandoned or a coal company goes bankrupt, taxpayers would most likely be left responsible to clean up the land. If taxpayers choose not to or are unable to afford clean-up, the site would be left as a sacrificed area.
Surety bonds are a much safer way to assure that the land is reclaimed properly for the prosperity and health of our communities. Surety bonds require collateral. DRC believes that as coal becomes outdated and coal companies run precarious business operations due to a changing economy, self-bonding practices need to end. Collateral should always be necessary to issue a permit for mining in order to protect our beautiful state and the productivity of North Dakota.
What do we value here in North Dakota? We value our independence, our grit, our communities, and our land. As we move forward into the future, how can we maintain communities that continue to support our values? Diversifying our rural economies so that they can withstand changes through time is important. The rural way of life is a significant part of the identity of North Dakota, so job creation in rural areas should be a priority. As a grassroots organization, we follow the lead of community members and help them raise their voices to be heard. DRC is engaged in supporting communities as they develop new strategies to withstand changes and create the future they wish to see.