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Possible link between flood risk and abandoned mining lands makes reclamation efforts urgent

This story was originally posted by Public press service.

The impact of abandoned mining land on flood risk is under renewed scrutiny after devastating flooding in the eastern part of the state killed 40 people.

Mary Cromer, deputy director of the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in Whitesburg, said while research is ongoing and no definitive link has been found, it’s likely that more than 100 years of coal mining in the eastern Kentucky destabilized land in the area and caused more flood damage.

Cromer explained that coal seams in the same piece of land have often been mined multiple times.

“The issue of degraded land is often very complex,” Cromer pointed out. “A lot of times you have impacts from one mine, and then they’ll be another mine, then another mine, and another mine, so you have these kinds of cumulative impacts happening.”

Poor soils and loss of vegetation on former mining lands likely exacerbate flood impacts. According to a recent report from the National Wildlife Federation, a 2019 analysis found that heavily logged areas of the Ohio River basin were also most at risk from extreme weather due to climate change.

Cromer believes that to improve land stability and reduce future impacts of natural disasters, coal mining communities need large-scale cleanup. She added that advocates are calling for a comprehensive reclamation that goes beyond compacting land and growing grass.

“We really hope there will be a lot more effort to try to really look at the ecological value and consider replanting with native hardwoods,” Cromer explained.

Jessica Arriens, climate energy policy program manager at the National Wildlife Federation and co-author of the report, said the bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year contains $21 billion for the cleanup of abandoned mines and other types of degraded land at the national level.

“We’re really at that point where there’s a ton of investment in there,” Arriens pointed out. “And that’s also why we wanted to make sure we get those recommendations from the policy makers. It’s wonderful that the level of divestment is there; let’s make sure it works for the climate too.

According to Federation data, reforestation of just 25% of abandoned mining lands could potentially sequester about 232 metric tons of carbon each year.

Disclosure: The National Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on climate change/air quality, endangered species and wildlife, energy policy, and water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, Click here.

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