Big News: Patriot Coal to phase out surface mining

From our friends at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition:

Today, November 15, in federal court in Huntington, W.Va., Patriot Coal Corporation announced its intention to immediately begin phasing out all large scale surface mining in Appalachia. The announcement follows an historic agreement with the Sierra Club, OVEC and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, so ably represented by attorneys from Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

“This agreement is a clear admission of the dangers of mountaintop removal coal mining and a key victory for the Appalachian community,” said Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3). “I commend Patriot Coal for acknowledging the destructive impact of mountaintop removal and for taking steps to protect the communities where it operates. An industry leader finally recognizing that it can be successful without employing this devastating practice is significant progress. Now it’s time for Congress to step up and enact legislation protecting all of Appalachia.”Along with its commitment to end large-scale surface mining in the region, the company also acknowledged the impact this destructive form of mining has on local communities and announced its commitment to reduce its environmental footprint. Patriot is among the largest mountaintop removal coal mine operators in Appalachia.

Patriot will also retire significant infrastructure required to perform mountaintop removal mining, including the dragline at its Catenary mine complex on Kayford Mountain, which will be retired immediately, and the dragline at its Hobet mine complex, which will be retired in 2015.

In a statement read in court, Patriot CEO Ben Hatfield said:

Patriot Coal has concluded that the continuation or expansion of surface mining, particularly large scale surface mining of the type common in central Appalachia, is 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 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.  We believe the proposed settlement will result in a reduction of our environmental footprint.

This settlement is consistent with Patriot Coal’s 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.

Patriot Coal urges the Court to approve the settlement because it strengthens the Company’s ability to continue operating with our nearly 4000 employees, and significantly increases the likelihood that we will emerge from the chapter 11 process as a viable business, able to satisfy our environmental and other obligations.

OVEC founder Dianne Bady 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."

See: Associated Press story
Jeff Biggers blog post on Alternet

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