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Coal Mining: Decommissioning and Site Reclamation Impacts

Decommissioning and site reclamation activities that may cause environmental impacts include filling in the mine, removal of infrastructure, land recontouring, and revegetation.

Typical activities during the decommissioning and site reclamation phase include removing infrastructure, such as structures, conveyors, rail lines; filling in the mined area or shafts; recontouring the surface; and revegetation. Potential impacts from these activities are presented below, by the type of affected resource. Depending on the mining method, some reclamation activities occur while the coal mining continues, such as in strip mining.

The following potential impacts may result from decommissioning and site reclamation:

Acoustics (Noise)

Primary sources of noise during decommissioning would be similar to those during construction and mining, and would include equipment (rollers, bulldozers, and diesel engines) and vehicular traffic. Whether the noise levels exceed guidelines established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or local ordinances would depend on the distance to the nearest residence. If near a residential area, noise levels could exceed the EPA guideline, but would be intermittent and occur for a limited time.

Air Quality (including Global Climate Change and Carbon Footprint)

Emissions from decommissioning activities include vehicle tailpipe emissions; diesel emissions from large construction equipment and generators; and fugitive dust from many sources such as backfilling, dumping, restoration of disturbed areas (grading, seeding, planting), and truck and equipment traffic. Permitting would be required (as during construction and mining), and therefore these emissions would not likely exceed air quality standards or impact climate change.

Cultural Resources

Decommissioning activities would be unlikely to impact cultural resources because these resources would have been removed professionally prior to mining, or would have been already disturbed or destroyed by prior activities. Collection of artifacts could be a problem if access roads were left in place and the area was not monitored.

Visual impacts of the coal mine would be mitigated if the site were restored to its preconstruction state. However, despite the physical removal of any surface facilities, the impact of a scarred landscape on an area considered sacred to Native Americans would likely remain.

Ecological Resources

Impacts to ecological resources from decommissioning activities would be similar in nature to impacts from construction and mining, with a reduction or elimination of blasting activities. Negligible to no reduction in wildlife habitat would be expected, and injury and mortality rates of vegetation and wildlife could be lower than they would be during mining. Impacts resulting from acid mine drainage could continue if not properly managed. Restoration of the mine site would reduce habitat fragmentation. Following site reclamation, the ecological resources at the project site could return to preproject conditions.

Environmental Justice

If significant impacts occurred in any resource areas, and these impacts disproportionately affected minority or low-income populations, then there could be an environmental justice impact. Issues that could be of concern during decommissioning are noise, air quality, water quality, loss of employment and income, and visual impacts from the project site.

Hazardous Materials and Waste Management

Industrial wastes (e.g., lubricating oils, hydraulic fluids, coolants, solvents, and cleaning agents) would be treated similarly to wastes generated during mining activities (that is, put in containers, characterized and labeled, possibly stored briefly, and transported by a licensed hauler to an appropriate permitted off-site disposal facility). Impacts could result if these wastes were not properly handled and were released to the environment. Additional solid and industrial waste would be generated during the dismantling of any ancillary facilities. Much of the solid material from dismantling facilities could be recycled and sold as scrap or used in road building or bank restabilization projects; the remaining nonhazardous waste would be sent to permitted disposal facilities.

Human Health and Safety

Potential impacts to worker and public health and safety during the decommissioning and reclamation of a coal mine would be similar to those from any construction-type project with earthmoving, crushing, large equipment, and transportation of overweight and oversized materials. Added risk may be involved with the reclamation of underground mines due to the potential for mine subsidence. In addition, health and safety issues include working in potential weather extremes and possible contact with natural hazards, such as uneven terrain and dangerous plants, animals, or insects.

Land Use

Upon decommissioning of the mine site and reclamation, land use impacts resulting from coal mining using underground mining and strip mining methods would be largely reversed. Future subsidence of underground mines could be a long-term issue. Open pit mines could have lasting land-use impacts; the land may be irreversibly altered if reclamation to pre-development condition is not possible. Alternate land uses may be established.

Paleontological Resources

Decommissioning activities have little potential to impact paleontological resources because these resources would have been removed professionally prior to mining, or would have been already disturbed or destroyed by prior activities. Fossil collection could be a problem if access roads were left in place and the area was no longer periodically monitored.


Direct impacts of decommissioning of the mine and reclamation would include the impacts resulting from the cessation of mining activities, including job loss and revenue loss, and also the creation of new jobs for workers during reclamation activities and the associated income and taxes paid. Indirect impacts would occur from both the loss of economic development created by the loss of mining jobs and new economic development that would include things such as new jobs at businesses that support the reclamation workforce or that provide project materials and associated income and taxes. No adverse effect to property values is anticipated as a result of decommissioning. Site reclamation could result in economic values of residential properties adjacent to the coal mine becoming equivalent to similarly developed residential areas that were not affected by the coal mine. The loss of royalty and tax revenue could adversely impact the local and regional economies.

Soils and Geologic Resources (including Seismicity/Geo Hazards)

Activities during the decommissioning/reclamation phase that would impact soils and geologic resources include removal of access and on-site roads and heavy vehicle traffic. Surface disturbance, heavy equipment traffic, and changes to surface runoff patterns can cause soil erosion. Impacts of soil erosion include soil nutrient loss and reduced water quality in nearby surface water bodies. Disturbed areas would be contoured and revegetated to minimize the potential for soil erosion.


Short-term increases in the use of local roadways would occur during the reclamation period. Heavy equipment would remain at the site until reclamation is completed. Overweight and oversized loads, when removing the heavy equipment, could cause temporary disruptions to local traffic.

Visual Resources

During decommissioning, visual resource impacts would be similar to those from construction and mining. Restoring a decommissioned site to preproject conditions would entail recontouring, grading, scarifying, seeding and planting, and perhaps stabilizing disturbed surfaces. Newly disturbed soils would create visual contrasts that would persist at least several seasons before revegetation would begin to disguise past activity. Restoration to preproject conditions may take much longer. Invasive species may colonize newly and recently reclaimed areas. Nonnative plants that are not locally adapted could produce contrasts of color, form, texture, and line.

Water Resources (Surface Water and Groundwater)

Water Use

Water might be trucked in from off-site or obtained from local groundwater wells or nearby surface water bodies, depending on availability. It would be used for dust control for road traffic and mine filling and for consumptive use by the decommissioning/site reclamation crew.

Water Quality

Water quality could be affected by continued acid mine drainage if not effectively managed, activities that cause soil erosion, weathering of newly exposed soils leading to leaching and oxidation that could release chemicals into the water, discharges of waste or sanitary water, and pesticide applications. Upon completion of decommissioning, disturbed areas would be contoured and revegetated to minimize the potential for soil erosion and water-quality-related impacts.

Flow Alteration

Surface and groundwater flow systems would be affected by withdrawals made for water use, wastewater and stormwater discharges, and the diversion of surface water flow for access road reclamation or stormwater control systems. The interaction between surface water and groundwater could also be affected if the two resources are hydrologically connected, potentially resulting in unwanted dewatering or recharging of any of these water resources.