Richmond, VA — Appalachian Mountain Advocates (on behalf of its clients Sierra Club, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition) negotiated a groundbreaking settlement with coal mine operator Alpha Natural Resources. That settlement, filed in the bankruptcy court today, directs money and in-kind resources to innovative stream restoration and reforestation projects in West Virginia. The projects will be implemented by Appalachian Headwaters, a new West Virginia non-profit created to improve the environment and help spur economic development in the region.
Appalachian Headwaters will work with leading academic experts, engineers, coal mining companies, community groups and landowners to establish productive native hardwood forests and restore water quality on mountaintop removal and other large scale surface mining sites in the region. These projects will achieve far higher levels of reclamation than typically found on mountaintop removal and other large scale surface mines. Instead of merely establishing grasslands and planting invasive species on mined sites to reduce sedimentation, Appalachian Headwaters will work to establish native hardwood forests and significantly improve water quality in Appalachian streams.
Under the settlement, Alpha must pay $7.5 million to fund land and stream restoration projects in West Virginia and more than $1 million of in-kind services to carry out the restoration projects. Those in-kind services will be provided over the next three years in the form of heavy equipment use and labor expenses to operate the equipment. The agreement also anticipates that Alpha and Appalachian Headwaters will cooperate to reclaim additional land and water in the region; to that end, Alpha agreed to provide equipment and labor at its cost to Appalachian Headwaters after the in-kind contributions have been depleted.
In exchange, Appalachian Mountain Advocates and the conservation groups it represents have agreed to provide Alpha with a three-year extension to the deadlines in an existing settlement resolving an earlier Clean Water Act citizen enforcement suit against two of Alpha’s mines. The groups have also agreed to not oppose Alpha’s final reorganization plan in the bankruptcy court. All other consent decrees between Alpha and Appalachian Mountain Advocates’ clients remain in full force and effect.
“In the wake of the recent coal bankruptcies, it is necessary for citizens and communities to reclaim the degraded land and polluted water left behind as mountaintop removal winds down ,” said Joe Lovett, Executive Director of Appalachian Mountain Advocates. “The legacy of mountaintop removal will be with us for many decades. The mining industry, which is legally responsible for cleaning up its pollution and restoring mountaintop removal sites to productive uses, no longer has the money to meet its obligations. So self-help is our only option left.”
Appalachian Headwaters will work to establish commercially viable, native hardwood forests on mined sites where only grass or invasive plant species will grow now. The new group’s work will also improve seriously degraded mountain streams so they will support the sensitive aquatic life that once thrived in those streams. Appalachian Headwaters’ reclamation work has the potential to develop agroforestry and other sustainable economic activities in the economically depressed region. Additional information on Appalachian Headwaters can be found here.
Appalachian Mountain Advocates represents Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and Sierra Club in today’s settlement as well as the underlying Clean Water Act case that lead to the settlement.
“The scars that Alpha has left on Appalachia are deep and there is much more work to be done, but this is a start in reversing some of the damage Alpha and other mine operators have done to this region,” said Liz Wiles, Chair of the Sierra Club’s West Virginia Chapter. “It is essential that all levels of government and the private sector invest in the workers and the communities who have powered our country for over a century, so that they can enjoy new economic opportunities that provide long term stability. Meanwhile, we will continue to advocate for a bright future for communities affected by coal mining — starting by putting the funds from this settlement towards reclaiming and restoring Appalachian lands, waters and local economies.”
“Alpha cannot be let off the hook, even as it takes advantage of a bankruptcy process which too often allows debtors to shed liabilities and escape important obligations,” said Dianne Bady of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “This settlement ensures that Alpha contributes something toward restoring the region and invests in putting hard-working families back to work.”
“Decades of short-sighted, misguided decisions by coal companies like Alpha — with the blessing of West Virginia leaders and federal regulators — have created a toxic legacy that will linger for decades more,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “This settlement will at least create an opportunity for new reforestation and stream restoration projects designed by reputable scientists to show what will be required to reverse the damage and start a new chapter for Appalachia.”
Contact: Joe Lovett, Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-520-2324
Rudhdi Karnik, Sierra Club, email@example.com, 202-495-3055
Cindy Rank, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-924-5802
Dianne Bady, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, email@example.com, 302-522-0246