MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) – Bankrupt Patriot Coal Corp. agreed Thursday to become the first U.S. coal operator to phase out and eventually stop all large-scale mountaintop removal mining in central Appalachia under an agreement reached with three environmental groups that sued over pollution from several West Virginia operations.
St. Louis-based Patriot said the proposed agreement allows it to postpone as much as $27 million in expenses into 2014 and beyond, improving its liquidity and the likelihood it can successfully emerge from Chapter 11 protection as a viable business.
Mountaintop removal is a highly efficient but particularly destructive form of strip mining unique to West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Coal companies blast apart mountain ridge tops to expose multiple coal seams. The resulting rock and debris is dumped in streams, creating so-called valley fills.
The deal comes as Patriot tackles litigation that must be resolved during those proceedings. The terms would be binding on any subsidiaries it sells or spins off.
Presented to U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers in Huntington for consideration, the agreement came out of water pollution lawsuits filed by the Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
The continuation or expansion of large-scale surface mining is no longer in Patriot’s best long-term interests, President Ben Hatfield told the judge.
“Patriot Coal recognizes that our mining operations impact the communities in which we operate in significant ways,” he acknowledged, adding that the agreement will reduce the company’s environmental footprint.
In exchange for phasing out mountaintop removal and agreeing to caps on the amount of coal it produces from strip mining, Patriot gets additional time to install selenium treatment systems at several mines. The pollution control technology was required under previous legal settlements.
Patriot is one of the largest mountaintop removal operators in the region.
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, called the agreement a historic moment in the fight against what he called an “abhorrent” form of mining.
“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,” he said.
But word of the deal concerned the United Mine Workers of America, even though it appears there will be no immediate job losses. The union is battling Patriot to maintain pension and health care benefits for retirees as the company reorganizes.
“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,” President Cecil Roberts said. “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.”
People who live near the operations complain about not only property damage but also health problems they believe are related to the dust and water pollution the operations create. Whether the practice should continue has been the source of intense conflict in West Virginia, where surface miners depend on it for their livelihoods.
The agreement caps the amount of coal that Patriot can mine from surface operations at 6.5 million tons in 2014, falling to 5 million tons in 2017. By January 2018, the amount is limited to no more than 3 million tons a year.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- Arizona kids in crisis: How you can help
- 11 holiday classics for the ultimate movie marathon
- 2016 college football rivalry games you simply can't miss
- New treatment offers hope for migraine sufferers
- 11 stadiums to watch your favorite football team
- Shopping for a TV? Best models for 2016
- The new beer pairing guide for holiday foods
- Avoid this holiday plumbing disaster in your home
- 7 tips to avoid holiday weight gain
- New treatments mean better prostate cancer survival rates
- 5 of the scariest things found in drains
- 6 tips to create the best family movie night
- New bone marrow procedure holds promise for healing pain
- The best places to celebrate Fall in Phoenix
- Infamous athletes who did the most time for their crimes
- Diet, exercise and aspirin: 3 tools to fight colon cancer
- 2016 baseball highlights, bloopers and blunders
- See how CFOs really feel about business in the Valley
- The best television shows on the internet
- The 5 worst things you could do for your roof
- 6 coolest things brewing in Arizona
- The virus that keeps head and neck cancers on the rise
- State Fair ‘Kid Reporter’ has all the angles covered
- 4 important things to know about timeshare maintenance fees
- Signs of delayed car crash injuries
- The truth about sports concussions
- The Alzheimer's epidemic: Facts you need to know
- The season is here, keep your Fantasy Football team strong all season
- 8 TV shows you can't miss this fall
- Football is here: 6 tips to make this your best season ever