Today, Patriot Coal announced it has agreed to get out of the mountaintop removal business ? permanently. This agreement represents an enormous victory in Appalachian Mountain Advocates’ 14-year battle against mountaintop removal mining.
Our ongoing actions against Patriot to ensure that it could not shirk its responsibility to clean up the water pollution caused by its operations played a vital role in that decision. Early this year, we reached a landmark settlement with the company in which it agreed to clean up toxic?selenium?pollution at multiple outfalls at three major mining complexes.
According to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, it will cost Patriot $440 million to clean up the pollution in this agreement and another action we prevailed in earlier. That cost otherwise could have fallen on the taxpayers of West Virginia.
Patriot is currently the second largest surface mining company in West Virginia. Because of the agreement we reached with the company, it will no longer be able to engage in mountaintop removal mining or other large-scale surface mining once its current permits run out. In addition, the company agreed to an unprecedented permanent cap on surface-mining tonnage. Any new small-scale surface mining it engages in must be associated with an underground mine. Additionally, even that small-scale mining will come to an end when its current leases expire. After that, the only surface mining the company will conduct will be that directly related to the reclamation of underground coal mine refuse areas.
The company will retire its draglines and focus on underground mining only.
In a statement, the company, which is currently going through reorganization in federal bankruptcy court, said it had come to the decision that engaging in surface mining ?was no longer in its long-term interest? and it acknowledged the “significant” impact of its mountaintop removal minings on local communities.
We believe any mining company that actually has to pay the costs to clean up the environmental destruction caused by mountaintop removal mining will realize that this destructive method of mining doesn’t make environmental or economic sense. We will continue to work to ensure that every mining company does have to pay those costs.
Read Patriot CEO Ben Hatfield’s statement?here.
Here is the press release issued today by The Sierra Club:
For Immediate Release:
November 15, 2012
Sean Sarah, Sierra Club, 202 548-4589, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Sconyers, Sierra Club West Virginia, 304-698-9628, email@example.com
Cindy Rank, WV Highlands Conservancy, 304-924-5802, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dianne Bady, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, 304 360-2072, email@example.com
Patriot Coal Commits to End its Mountaintop Removal in Appalachia
Company, Among the Largest Surface Coal Mine Operators in the Region,
Reaches Agreement with Community and Conservation Groups
Charleston, WV ? Today, Patriot Coal Corporation (NYSE: PCX) announced its intention to immediately begin phasing out all large scale surface mining in Appalachia. The announcement follows an historic agreement with the Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, represented by attorneys from Appalachian Mountain Advocates. Patriot, which filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy on July 9th, sought approval from the groups for an extension to the schedule under which the company is required ? pursuant to a court order and settlement resolving prior litigation with the groups ? to install expensive pollution controls at several mines in West Virginia. Astonishingly, along with its commitment to end large scale surface mining in the region, the company also acknowledged the impact this destructive form of mining has on local communities and announced its commitment to reduce its environmental footprint. Patriot is among the largest mountaintop removal coal mine operators in Appalachia.
?This is an historic moment for people hardest hit by mountaintop removal coal mining,? said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. ?Tens of thousands of people have worked tirelessly to put an end to this destructive process, and today?s agreement is a major step towards ending this abhorrent form of mining and repairing the damage done to communities and ecosystems across the region. Patriot Coal may be the first company to cease mountaintop removal mining but, because of the tireless efforts of committed volunteers and community organizations, it certainly won?t be the last.?
The agreement requires Patriot to move away from, and ultimately cease, mountaintop removal and all other forms of large-scale surface mining in Appalachia. In return, Patriot will be granted additional time to install selenium treatment at several of its mines. Patriot will also retire significant infrastructure required to perform mountaintop removal mining, including the dragline at its Catenary mine complex, which will be retired immediately, and the dragline at its Hobet mine complex, which will be retired in 2015.
Patriot will also withdraw two applications for Clean Water Act section 404 valley fill permits currently pending before the Army Corps of Engineers, and will surrender its remaining rights under a third permit. These section 404 permits allow companies to dump the waste from mountaintop removal mines into valleys, burying streams and headwaters that are critical to local biodiversity. Further, Patriot has committed to not apply for any additional large-scale surface mine permits, has agreed to not open any new stand-alone surface mines, and will only conduct small scale surface mining in conjunction with existing and planned underground mining. The agreement allows Patriot to move forward with its plans to open one new metallurgical coal mine for which a section 404 permit application is pending, but preserves the right of the groups to challenge that permit in the event that the EPA identifies water quality concerns with the permit. Patriot will also donate $500,000 to a West Virginia non-profit organization to be identified by the parties.
Finally, Patriot has issued the following statement:
?Patriot Coal has concluded that the continuation or expansion of surface mining, particularly large scale surface mining of the type common in central Appalachia, is not in its long term interests. Today?s proposed settlement commits Patriot Coal to phase out and permanently exit large scale surface mining and transition our business primarily toward underground mining and related small scale surface mining. Patriot Coal recognizes that our mining operations impact the communities in which we operate in significant ways, and we are committed to maximizing the benefits of this agreement for our stakeholders, including our employees and neighbors. We believe the proposed settlement will result in a reduction of our environmental footprint…?
?It’s heartening any day we learn that a major player decides that mountaintop removal is not in the best interest – of the company or of our mountains, streams, and communities,? said Jim Sconyers, Chair of the West Virginia Sierra Club. ?We look forward to the day when full implementation of this agreement is achieved.?
In return, Sierra Club, OVEC, and WVHC have agreed to file a joint motion with Patriot that will extend the time the company is allowed to comply with court ordered selenium controls at the Hobet mine by 15 months. The coalition will also allow Patriot to extend the date of compliance for selenium treatment at 42 other outlets at other mines and facilities by 12 months.
?We’ve been saying for many years that if companies had to pay the real costs of mountaintop removal, it would not be economically feasible,? said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. ?Hopefully, it?s now become clear that when coal companies are required to prevent illegal selenium pollution and pay the costs for cleanup themselves it?s simply doesn?t make economic sense to continue this destructive form of mining.?
?We hope that this agreement, while holding Patriot responsible for its legacy of mining pollution, puts the company in a strong enough financial condition through its underground mining that it can honor its obligations to its retirees and workers,? said Dianne Bady of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.
The Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy were represented in the matter by Joe Lovett and Derek Teaney of Appalachian Mountain Advocates. The agreement was announced during a proceeding before Judge Robert Chambers of the US District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.