Patriot Coal Giving Up Mountaintop Removal in Appalachia

Three environmental groups are involved in the agreement announced Nov. 15 and are celebrating the result.

A major announcement by Patriot Coal came Nov. 15, with the company saying it will halt large-scale mountaintop removal operations in Appalachia, and was hailed by the three environmental groups involved in the agreement. The company is currently in bankruptcy and is one of the largest surface coal mining operators in the region.

The three organizations involved in the agreement are the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, represented by attorneys from Appalachian Mountain Advocates. Patriot Coal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 9. Patriot's announcement said the agreement is pending approval by a federal judge and a bankruptcy judge in New York.

"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."

"This settlement agreement allows Patriot to defer up to $27 million of compliance-related cash outlays from 2012 and 2013 into 2014 and beyond, which improves our liquidity as we reorganize our company and increases the likelihood that we will emerge from the Chapter 11 process as a viable business," Patriot Coal President/CEO Bennett Hatfield said. "Importantly, this proposed settlement allows Patriot to continue mining according to existing permits and is consistent with our long-term business plan to focus capital on expanding higher-margin metallurgical coal production and limiting thermal coal investments to selective opportunities where geologic and regulatory risks are minimized."

"The agreement requires Patriot to move away from, and ultimately cease, mountaintop removal and all other forms of large-scale surface mining in Appalachia," the Sierra Club's statement said, and Patriot gains more time to install selenium treatment at several of its mines. Patriot also will withdraw two applications for Clean Water Act section 404 valley fill permits pending before the Army Corps of Engineers and will surrender its remaining rights under a third permit, according to the statement.

"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."

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