U.S. House panel probes slow cleanup of ‘exploited’ coal mining sites

Navajo Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant near Page, Ariz., in January 2013. /Photo by eflon / Flickr/CC BY 2.0

By Jacob Fischler | Arizona Mirror

A U.S. House Natural Resources subcommittee examined the cleanup needs for regions transitioning away from coal production Tuesday, with witnesses representing coal workers and Native American communities saying energy companies should be responsible for returning the land to its pre-mining state.

Much of the conversation at the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee hearing centered on the concept of  “environmental justice” and the restoration of mining sites, including at recently closed coal production locations in Navajo Nation in Northern Arizona. 

“These communities, and especially Indian Country, have been really exploited,” subcommittee Chairman Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) said. “It’s a really horrible, horrible situation.”

But Republicans on the panel criticized opposition to fossil fuels as “job killing,” and said the shift to cleaner energy sources has resulted in employment losses and a hit to economic development in mining regions. Some Western states like Wyoming have been able to strike a balance between environmental protection and fossil fuel production, they said.

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) suggested Wyoming’s experience did not remove responsibility from “deadbeat coal companies” that created “very real burdens and hardship” for struggling communities.

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