Cross Posted from Huffington Post
By Mary Anne Hitt
One of Appalachia’s biggest coal companies is getting out of the mountaintop removal business. In a landmark announcement, Patriot Coal, one of Appalachia’s three largest mountaintop removal companies, has signed a settlement agreement with the Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy committing to end its practice of large scale surface mining in Appalachia, and to retire much of its mountaintop removal equipment, including two massive mining machines called draglines. The conservation groups were represented in the negotiations by Joe Lovett of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
I have been working for over a decade to end mountaintop removal, and I see this agreement as a big step towards the abolition of mountaintop removal in Appalachia. While this agreement does not end all mountaintop removal in the region, it marks major progress, and signals that the days of large scale surface mining in Appalachia are numbered.
In return for taking these steps, Patriot will be granted an additional 12 – 15 months to install treatments for toxic selenium pollution at some of its mines, including Hobet. Patriot also plans to move forward with Huff Creek, a proposed metallurgical coal mountaintop removal site in West Virginia, but preserves the right of the groups to challenge that permit in the event that the EPA identifies water quality concerns with the permit. All the organizations that are part of this agreement will continue working hard to protect the people and waterways of West Virginia from mountaintop removal mining.
This victory was achieved because of a long and successful push by our organizations to enforce clean water protections that have been on the books for years. As part of the agreement, Patriot will also withdraw some permits for filling valleys with mining waste and rubble — known as 404 permits — currently before the Army Corps of Engineers. And while they will still do some small-scale surface mining, most of it associated with underground mines, that mining will be subjected to a tonnage cap that will decrease over time. The conservation groups reserve their right to challenge these projects. To learn more about the agreement, click here.