Learning From Positive Outcomes on Land Reclamation

By Holly Krutka
Executive Editor, Cornerstone

As this issue of Cornerstone goes to press, world leaders are meeting in Paris, France, for the COP21 negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Momentum for the meetings has long been building, and future issues of Cornerstone will cover the outcomes, as they pertain to the coal industry and the broader energy community. As we have done in the past, we will continue to focus on policy approaches and technologies—including high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) coal-fired power plants and carbon capture, utilization, and storage—which enable coal utilization in a carbon-constrained world.

Krutka Headshot

While the significance of reducing emissions is not easily overstated, the environmental footprint of energy production and utilization is far from limited to greenhouse gases. For example, working with local communities and governments to ensure mined land is successfully reclaimed is a process that may not garner the same amount of attention as climate change mitigation, but to those living near mines it can cut at the heart of sustainable energy. Thus, in this issue of Cornerstone, we are highlighting lessons learned and international best practices in reclamation projects—principally from opencast mines. For countries currently growing their coal production, the decades of experience gained in reclamation efforts around the world could help leapfrog standard learning cycle time requirements to enhance reclamation practices.

Reclamation often begins while coal is being actively mined elsewhere at the same site. Such an approach minimizes the footprint of an opencast mine at any given time. Prior to the first excavation shovel, successful reclamation requires soliciting input from local stakeholders and ecology experts. Identifying any plant or animal species at risk, planning for drainage, and defining the optimal end use for the land are key first steps that are site specific. For example, as highlighted in this issue, while the western U.S. may use reclaimed land for livestock grazing, in the Czech Republic, which has recently announced that it is increasing limits on lignite production, nature preserves are a good fit. In cases such as the Czech Republic, spontaneous reclamation—allowing nature to do the work—has demonstrated ecological value.

Positive reclamation projects require an understanding of the local ecology and the risks posed by mining and other associated activities. Protection of the sage grouse in the western U.S. is an important success story of how mining companies have worked with local governments and environmental experts to minimize impact. As this issue of Cornerstone was being prepared, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the sage grouse would not be added to the endangered species list—a positive result for the bird and also the stakeholder groups that have been working to operate mines without affecting it unduly.

As global leaders negotiate on climate change mitigation, there may well be lessons on collaboration and commitment to the environment that can be gleamed by considering decades-long reclamation efforts. On behalf of the editorial team, I hope you enjoy this issue of Cornerstone.

 

The content in Cornerstone does not necessarily reflect the views of the World Coal Association or its members.
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