Charleston Gazette-Mail — An underground coal mine fire burns beneath a sprawling hillside in West Virginia, the pale, acrid smoke rising from gashes in the scarred, muddy earth only a stone’s throw from some houses.
The fire, which may have started with arson, lightning or a forest fire, smoldered for several years before bursting into flames last July in rural Preston County. The growing blaze moved the mine to the top of a list of thousands of problem decades-old coal sites in West Virginia awaiting cleanup and vying for limited federal funds.
..The state will get $23.3 million from the federal reclamation fund this year, which is replenished by fees on mining companies. The mines pay 12 cents per ton of underground coal mined and 28 cents per ton from surface mining, but the funding has dropped the past three years with a downturn in coal production.
It will cost about $1 billion just to extinguish all of West Virginia’s 43 fires in abandoned mines, according to the state office. They could have been caused by forest fires, arson, lightning strikes or even old underground explosions that never went completely out.
..“We continue to discover threats from left-behind mine pits, dangerous highwalls, acid mine drainage that pollutes our water supplies, and hazardous mine openings,” federal director Joe Pizarchik said earlier this year.
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