Standing on a windy stretch of highway with Karla Oksanen, we peer into a vast, dark, open-pit mine near Gillette, Wyoming. She and her husband live so close to Eagle Butte Mine that when operators detonate dynamite to clear dirt away from the coal seams, they can feel it.
“The shaking from the blasts—it’s kind of like an earthquake!” Oksanen says with a laugh.
Over the years, Oksanen and the coal mine have managed to co-exist. But these days she is concerned about the issue of clean-up. Eagle Butte Mine is owned by Alpha Natural Resources, a coal company that filed for bankruptcy in August.
Regulators estimate it would cost over $400 million to restore the land that Alpha has mined in Wyoming. But in its most recent financial filings, the company listed nationwide liabilities two-and-a-half times greater than its assets. The question of who will take on that clean-up debt and how it will get paid back is getting worked out in bankruptcy court.