TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – Bankrupt US coal miner Patriot Coal on Thursday became the first miner to cease large-scale mountaintop-removal coal mining in central Appalachia in exchange for more time to comply with the Clean Water Act at several of its central Appalachian mines.
As the company is preparing for Chapter 11 litigation, it had reached an agreement with three environmental groups that had sued over water pollution from its West Virginia operations.
The agreement was presented for consideration to Judge Robert Chambers of the US District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, and had its roots in water pollution lawsuits filed by environmental protection groups the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
Mountaintop-removal coal mining is an economical but devastating form of strip mining unique to West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. Coal companies blast apart mountain ridge tops to expose multiple coal seams and then dump the waste in streams, creating so-called valley fills.
Patriot Coal said it had concluded that continuing and expanding its surface mining, particularly large-scale surface mining of the type common in central Appalachia, was 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 recognises that our mining operations impact the communities in which we operate in significant ways, and we are committed to maximising the benefits of this agreement for our stakeholders, including our employees and neighbours. We believe the proposed settlement will result in a reduction of our environmental footprint,” president Ben Hatfield said in court.
Under the terms of the agreement, Patriot would move away from, and ultimately cease, mountaintop removal and all other forms of large-scale surface mining in Appalachia, in return for being granted additional time to install selenium treatment plants at several of its West Virginia mines.
Patriot had also agreed to retire significant infrastructure required to perform mountaintop-removal coal mining, including the dragline at its Catenary mine complex, which would be retired immediately, and the dragline at its Hobet mine complex, which would be retired in 2015.
Patriot would also withdraw two applications for Clean Water Act Section 404 valley fill permits currently pending before the US Army Corps of Engineers, and would surrender its remaining rights under a third permit.
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