A Bad Day for Mountaintop Removal is a Good Day for Rivers


mountain-top removal mining

Kayford Mountain, WV | Vivian Stockman

One of the biggest threats to river health in Appalachia is mountaintop removal coal mining.  This is a problem that American Rivers highlighted in our 2012 (Coal River) and 2010 (Gauley River) lists of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.  Both the Coal and Gauley rivers are located in West Virginia Coal Country.  Mountaintop removal coal mining buries streams, pollutes water, destroys mountains, and wreaks havoc on the health of local communities.  Today, at least one company won’t be causing this devastation any longer.

Following a lawsuit by our partners at the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, in partnership with the Sierra Club, Patriot Coal Corp. (one of the largest surface mining companies in Appalachia) has agreed to stop its mountaintop removal mining operations and all other forms of large-scale surface mining.  The agreement was reached in exchange for an extension of the deadlines for installing selenium treatment technology at Patriot’s facilities.  Selenium is a toxic element that can cause gastrointestinal disorders, hair loss, sloughing of nails, fatigue, irritability, neurological damage, cirrhosis of the liver, pulmonary edema, and even death.  This is a great step for Appalachian communities in pursuit of healthy living conditions.

Ken Ward at the Charleston Gazette does a good job of outlining some of the provisions of this agreement. 

“We’ve been saying for many years that if companies had to pay the real costs of mountaintop removal, it would not be economically feasible.  Hopefully, it’s now become clear that when coal companies are required to prevent illegal selenium pollution and pay the costs for cleanup themselves, it simply doesn’t make economic sense to continue this destructive form of mining,” said Cindy Rank, our partner with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. 

SkyTruth has determined that nearly 450,000 acres have been mined using mountaintop removal since 1976.  One of the non-environmental issues with mountaintop removal is that it replaces human workers with explosives.  So this action will continue to support jobs and the economy of West Virginia without causing massive devastation to the environment that is inherent with mountaintop removal coal mining.  This is a win for communities and rivers!

“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,” said Dianne Bady with our partner group the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

We just want to say “Thank You” to our partners at the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition for their hard work towards this success!