Huge news: Patriot Coal to end mountaintop removal

November 15, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

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.

UPDATED:

Patriot’s “global settlement” is posted online here.

2 Responses to “Huge news: Patriot Coal to end mountaintop removal”

  1. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Here’s a statement issued by the UMWA on this development:

    “My first concern about this agreement is what impact it may have on our members and their jobs. It appears that there will be no immediate job losses, which is good. As we move further down the road, we will have to see what Patriot’s specific plans are with respect to its new focus on underground and smaller surface operations. Obviously, events related to the company’s bankruptcy and how it intends to deal with its active and retired workers in that process will play a role in all of this.

    “We have always said that our members do not get to make the decisions about where and how coal is mined, we just mine it. The companies make those decisions, and for its own reasons, Patriot has made the decision to stop operating large-scale surface operations.

    “Coal mining has always been an occupation of continuous change, whether it’s technological change, changes in mining methods, changes in markets, or changes in regulations. Companies have always made strategic decisions based on those changes and workers are left to live with the consequences. That is what has happened here.

    “But one thing has remained constant in coal mining for the last 123 years, and that is the UMWA and the on-the-job protection and better standard of living our contracts provide miners and their families. We will still provide our members working at Patriot and at other companies with that strength, no matter what changes may come.”

  2. Matt Wasson says:

    Sincere congratulations to the plaintiffs and in particular to Joe Lovett and the others at Appalachian Mountain Advocates. West Virginia is blessed to have some of the most most effective and brilliant environmental lawyers in the country working to protect its mountains and communities.

    And Kudos to Ben Hatfield as well – he’s going to come under a lot of fire for acknowledging the detrimental impact that mountaintop removal has on nearby communities and it was a bold move. I hope Kevin Crutchfield at Alpha and John Eaves at Arch Coal are paying attention.

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