As part of this effort, we routinely analyze baseline hydrology (including water quality and quantity), existing biological communities, the presence of endangered species, anthropological resources, landscape structure and soil conditions, and native plant species, among other aspects.
Our industry is one of the most highly regulated business sectors in the United States. We operate under an extensive regulatory regime that includes state and federal components of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, Toxic Substances and Control Act, and National Environmental Policy Act, among others. Our team of skilled and experienced environmental engineers and compliance managers work closely with state and federal agencies to ensure that our operations are in full compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
Our operations have restored more than 20,000 acres of former mine lands since 2016.
As a routine and required stage of the overall mining life-cycle, Arch devotes significant time and attention to reclaiming sites after mining activities are completed. Our subsidiaries undertake contemporaneous reclamation at all active sites. In addition to timely and contemporaneous reclamation of active sites, we responsibly manage idled and closed mine assets, including any pre-existing obligations associated with prior acquisitions. Included in this latter category are transferred properties where we apply our expertise and a range of innovative practices to mitigate and eliminate water impacts and shorten the amount of time needed for ongoing treatment.
In every operating region, we take our reclamation efforts seriously and are often recognized for excellence by state and federal agencies. Each reclamation project is viewed as unique, and great attention is paid to ensure that the land is restored to its approximate original contours and to an equal or better post-mining land use. Often the reclaimed land is indistinguishable from surrounding terrain within just a few growing seasons. We are committed to pursuing continuous improvement in our reclamation techniques in order to ensure that we are leaving sustainable lands for both wildlife and community needs.
Committed to Reclamation Excellence
million in past decade
We take pride in our restoration efforts — whether for wildlife habitat, range land, forestland or community use — and we work diligently to ensure the land is returned to equal or better condition than that which prevailed in its pre-mining state.
Since 2010, Arch subsidiary operations have claimed one of the top two national honors for reclamation excellence and community engagement – the National Reclamation Award and the Good Neighbor Award – seven times. During 2020, the Leer South mine won the Good Neighbor Award for its ongoing work engaging with community leaders and advancing critical infrastructure projects.
During 2020, an Arch subsidiary won West Virginia’s top reclamation honor, the Greenlands Award, which recognizes the mining reclamation project that meets and exceeds the highest standards for reclamation effectiveness, innovative practices, post-mining land use and habitat re-establishment and improvement. In fact, an Arch subsidiary has won this prestigious award in seven of the past eight years.
In addition, Leer South won an award in 2020 from the state of West Virginia for exemplary reclamation techniques for drainage structures.
In Colorado, the West Elk mine was honored in 2020 as “best-of-the-best” and was bestowed with the Environmental Stewardship Award for its water conservation and pollution prevention efforts, as well as for its voluntary efforts to employ flares in the destruction of coal mine methane.
In recognition of its efforts, Arch has received state reforestation awards in West Virginia and Maryland in five of the past 10 years and has received the coveted Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI) Award three times in the past decade. The ARRI initiative is a cooperative effort between the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE); the states of Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia; environmental organizations; academia; industry partners; local, state and federal government agencies; and private landowners. Each year, a single award is presented to the reforestation reclamation project that best achieves the ARRI objectives of 1) re-establishing high-value hardwood trees on reclaimed mined lands in Appalachia, 2) increasing the survival rates and growth rates of planted trees, and 3) expediting the establishment of forest habitat through natural succession.
At our western operations, where the landscape is a grassland environment, Arch subsidiaries have successfully established nearly 5,100 acres of native grassland shrub habitat, which is a critical component of a healthy grassland ecosystem.
In Wyoming, our subsidiary operations utilize practices that ensure reclaimed habitat provides needed forage, nesting and coverage requirements for native bird species. Reclamation grading and landscaping simulate the topography of the native lands, and specific seed mixtures of native grasses and shrubs are selected to replicate pre-mine habitat.
Overall, our operations have restored more than 20,000 acres of reclaimed land since 2016. In recent years, we have placed particular emphasis on completing Phase III release, which is the final stage of bond release on reclaimed areas, as well as the final regulated step in the mining process. State regulatory inspectors oversee and approve each successive step in the process and ultimately approve final release of the properties from protective reclamation bonds. We have placed a major emphasis on reclamation and bond release companywide. Final release is only granted once an operation has demonstrated that the landscape has been successfully reclaimed and that the vegetation is effectively established and stable.
Arch and its subsidiaries understand and embrace the importance of protecting, restoring and enhancing ecosystems in our operating regions before, during and after mining takes place, and our subsidiaries protect, restore, and enhance ecosystems at all of their operating sites. With help from a variety of organizations, we go to great lengths to protect, preserve, and establish suitable habitats for wildlife. Our properties often serve as wildlife reserves for a variety of native species, even while reclamation is still under way.
In particular, our subsidiaries have made substantial efforts to protect and promote avian populations, with a particular emphasis on raptor species. Our Wyoming subsidiary has worked to provide improved habitat on reclaimed lands, establishing new and replacement nesting structures, and relocating and rescuing birds as needed. The Wyoming operations have also initiated an Avian Protection Plan (APP) with the goal of eliminating or minimizing risks to avian species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), including risks posed by aboveground power lines and associated electrical structures. As part of the initial work for the plan, all electrical structures on our sites were scrutinized by wildlife professionals to evaluate potential impacts. We have since removed 100 percent of the identified hazards. This work included removing power lines and poles and providing alternate perches for such species as the Golden Eagle. Additionally, our operations have built nesting platforms on reclaimed land to encourage nesting away from active operations, and have created nest sites using natural substrate including trees, rock, outcrops and banks.
In an ongoing raptor study, our Wyoming operations are working with and supporting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study the nesting and migration patterns of the Burrowing Owl, a regional species that thrives on and around our Wyoming operations. In 2019, there were 25 owls captured on our Wyoming operations, with transmitters deployed on the 12 adults. These transmitters will enable government officials to better understand migration routes and wintering areas, which in turn may provide valuable insights into the reasons for the decline of the species, and on ways to improve management efforts.
Furthermore, our Wyoming subsidiary has worked for more than five years with state and local conservation groups in an effort to protect the Greater Sage Grouse. The Greater Sage Grouse, which is found in sagebrush country in the western United States, is the largest grouse in North America. The bird’s numbers began declining in the second half of the 20th Century in many areas, resulting in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposing the Greater Sage Grouse as a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Arch’s Wyoming subsidiary is a member of the Thunder Basin Grassland Prairie Ecosystem Association. This association was created to develop core protection areas and to provide stipulations for development within these areas as part of an effort to conserve and expand the species through habitat enhancement. Candidate conservation agreements for the sage grouse were developed and approved by the USFWS, and act to protect and enhance habitat critical to the bird’s ongoing success.
As a further example of our commitment to wildlife and habitat enhancement and utilization, our land management subsidiary has teamed with the State of West Virginia and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in an ongoing public-private partnership to restore Wild Elk populations to their native historic range. This partnership, which has been in place for more than five years, uses Arch’s reclaimed mine property in southern West Virginia because it provides high quality habitat with a very low density of human use. It has achieved dramatic results in the reintroduction and sustainability of Wild Elk herds in ever-expanding numbers.
Protecting Critical Habitat and Areas of High Biodiversity
Arch and its subsidiary operations are committed to evaluating all projects for potential impacts to critical habitats, as defined by the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). In addition, Arch routinely reviews all projects to identify areas of significant importance to endangered species of flora and fauna. Such evaluations are routinely required as part of the environmental assessments and environmental impact statements that must be conducted prior to mining on federal coal reserves.
Furthermore, Arch assesses potential impacts on endangered species and habitats of critical importance as part of the application process for all coal mining permits issued under the Surface Mining Control & Reclamation Act (SMCRA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA). These reviews apply the external standards required for identifying critical habitat and vulnerable natural resource systems. These external standards are stipulated by Section 3(5)(A) of the ESA; Section 762.11 of the SMCRA “Areas Unsuitable for Mining” regulation; Part 779 of the SMCRA Minimum Requirements for Review of Environmental Resources; and CWA Sections 402 and 404, among other regulatory provisions. These and other U.S. federal regulations require review of overall environmental resources, vegetation, soil, water and climate impacts.
In aggregate, this comprehensive set of environmental regulations encompasses potential impacts to air, water and soils within and adjacent to the permitted area; terrestrial and aquatic environments; migration patterns; nesting and hibernation habitats; wetland habitat; water availability; and quality impacts. If potential impacts are identified, agencies may prohibit mining activities outright, or stipulate requirements for mitigation and remediation activities in advance of disturbance. In addition, Section 7 of the ESA requires that, if a threatened or endangered species or critical habitat lies within or adjacent to the permit area, a consultation may be invoked by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service with the federal or state regulatory authority to further develop safeguards for — or enhancements to — the mining plan.
Arch recognizes the importance of respecting, identifying and conserving natural biodiversity in all its dimensions. While some aspects of the mining process may temporarily disturb existing natural systems, we view it as our obligation to minimize these impacts and to return the natural systems to their pre-mining natural resource value. In fact, written into the governing regulations of SMCRA, which controls all aspects of our industry and operations, is a requirement that mining disturbances be reclaimed to equal or higher post-mining land use. We are required to conduct pre-mining analysis of our mine sites and designate the best land use achievable with reclamation. This effort requires effective planning, design and careful reclamation, with ongoing monitoring to ensure that reclamation objectives — including the reestablishment of species biodiversity — are achieved and remain durable.
Specifically, when the appropriate post-mine land use is determined to be “wildlife habitat,” areas are restored in a manner that achieves the approximate original contour of the land while ensuring that prevailing wildlife species are properly supported. In fact, in many cases, the reclaimed properties provide enhanced habitat conditions, supporting greater diversity than pre-mining conditions through the provision of “edge” development as well as early successional growth amid predominantly old growth habitats. Native species of trees, shrubs and grass species are used for this purpose. University studies have demonstrated, for example, that the Cerulean and Golden-wing warblers, identified as “vulnerable” species, thrive in the forest edges of reclaimed areas of coal mines in the eastern United States. Further, due to the increased density and more diverse species of rodents and small furbearers on reclaimed lands, raptors such as hawks and eagles thrive on our reclaimed lands. At our operations in the semi-arid region of Wyoming, the reestablishment of sage brush and other native shrubs is critical, and studies extend for a decade or more to ensure proper densities of those species are maintained, thus ensuring that floral diversity will continue to support the faunal diversity goals for the reclamation.
As part of our commitment to protecting biodiversity and vital lands, Arch subsidiary operations for more than 10 years have been a participating member in the Thunder Basin Grasslands Prairie Ecosystem Association (TBGPEA), a vigorous group of landowners, companies and not-for-profits that work together to properly monitor and help manage the 13.2-million-acre Thunder Basin Grassland (TBG) in northeastern Wyoming. The TBGPEA “works in collaboration and cooperation with a variety of government and non-government entities, as well as with experts in academia and members of the private sector … to fund and implement a variety of conservation efforts within [the TBG] landscape” in the interest of protecting this area of unique biodiversity and high conservation value.
Protection or enhancement of aquatic habitats is a component of stream restoration to support natural function of streams for native fish, aquatic invertebrates and insects. As part of the water discharge permitting process, the evaluation of existing aquatic biodiversity is required in order to ensure discharges during mining operations do not adversely affect downstream populations. Where temporary disturbances of aquatic habitats are necessary during mine development, restoration of the streams must be performed in a manner that replaces stream structure, sun exposure, riffle/pool dynamics, and many other elements of long-term productiveness.
Additionally, Arch and its subsidiaries are required to take into account the timing of land-clearing operations to protect threatened populations of bats — Northern Long Ear and Indiana bats in particular — during the warmer seasons. Hibernacula are identified and protective measures are taken to prevent disturbance of hibernating populations.
All of these measures and many more like them are critical components of Arch’s broad commitment to identifying the impacts of our operations on ecological systems, biodiversity, and areas of high conservation value.