Today I learned that the German Ruhr region needs to find a budget of around 220 million Eur0 a year to deal with the environmental consequences of 150 years of coal mining. Around two thirds of that sum is needed for pumping pit water.
Turns out you can’t just take out the coal and forget about your mines. Instead, you need to pump out pit water for eternity (Ewigkeitsaufgabe). If they stopped doing that, flooding or contamination of ground water would be the result.
Who pays for these pumping efforts?
As explained in this recent article at Wirtschaftswoche, the coal miners are. Ten years ago a foundation (stiftung) was started with funds from coal miners. It looks like they will be able to cover these costs for the next couple of decades with these funds.
So who pays for the environmental damage from CO2 emissions caused by coal mining? Will the foundation, the RAG-Stiftung, cover those costs as well?
I don’t think so. They would go bankrupt immediately.
But this seems to be an interesting precedent for the idea that miners need to pay for whatever mitigation measures are necessary to deal with environmental damages from their activity.
It may also be of interest to note that pumping massive amounts of pit water up from a depth of around 1000 meters has some potential for developing geothermal energy. As the RAG-Stiftung explains in a brochure, there are already some schools and public buildings who use this energy for heating.
Since the biggest factor of geothermal cost is boring the big deep holes, it obviously makes sense to use holes you already have from digging for coal.
Update (Sept 19th): Cleantechnica kindly republished this post, there are some comments over there.