Photo by Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
We’ve got this afternoon’s huge breaking news from the coalfields on the Gazette website:
Patriot Coal has agreed to phase out mountaintop removal and other forms of strip mining in a move Patriot officials say is in the best interests of the company and the communities where it operates.
In a deal with citizen groups, Patriot said it would never seek new permits for large-scale surface mining operations, according to details of the settlement revealed during a federal court hearing here this afternoon.
St. Louis-based Patriot can continue some existing and smaller mining projects, but must also implement a cap on surface production and eventually stop all strip mining when existing coal leases expire.
The deal does not require Patriot to immediately close any mines or lay off any workers. The company must cut corporate-wide surface production starting in 2014, and gradually reduce it to no more than 3 million tons annually – less than half of 2011 surface output – by 2018.
Ben Hatfield, president and CEO of Patriot, said the plan should help his company emerge from bankruptcy, focus on underground mining, and curb mountaintop removal’s effects on coalfield communities.
“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,” Hatfield told U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers. “We believe the proposed settlement will result in a reduction of our environmental footprint.”
Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, said:
This is an historic moment for people hardest hit by mountaintop removal coal mining … 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.
And Dianne Bady of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition said:
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.
Patriot’s “global settlement” is posted online here.