Patriot’s Agreement to End Mountaintop Removal Mining Cumulative Result of Our Tireless Work Against Illegal Mining Practices
It’s hard to understate the enormity of Patriot Coal’s dramatic announcement that it would cease its mountaintop removal mining operations. This is one of Appalachia’s biggest coal companies—and the second-largest producer of surface-mined coal in West Virginia—agreeing to end mountaintop removal and other forms of large-scale surface coal mining. Forever.
This victory was the culmination of the long and tireless work of Public Justice—led by Jim Hecker—and other environmental organizations to hold Patriot accountable for the pollution its mines create. We have been on the front lines of this fight for over a decade, and while we didn’t directly negotiate the agreement for Patriot to end the practice, our relentless work to enforce clean water protections and force Patriot to pay the financial costs to clean up the pollution caused by its mines was instrumental in its decision to end mountaintop removal mining.
The victory validates our view that, if the mining companies are forced to pay the real costs of mountaintop removal mining, then the practice is not economically viable. Case in point: in September of 2010, a federal judge ordered Patriot Coal to pay $45 million dollars to treat toxic selenium from one of its West Virginia coal mines, as a result of successful litigation we brought on behalf of four citizens groups. Ed Hopkins, Senior Washington, D.C., Director of the Sierra Club, hailed the court order as a “game changer.”
And indeed it was. That litigation, and similar litigation against other Patriot mines, forced Patriot to internalize the enormous environmental cost of its mining operations. Patriot filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in July 2012 and admitted that the costs of treating its contaminated mine water would exceed $400 million.
Patriot issued a statement about their agreement to cease mountaintop removal mining, admitting that the incredible cost of clean-up made mountaintop removal mining bad business, and going on to acknowledge the human impact of their operations:
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 was a huge victory for Public Justice, the entire environmental community, and the residents who live in coal country. Other mining companies will now understand the true costs of mountaintop removal mining, and the devastating effects of this type of mining on the environment, economy, and health of mountain communities will be lessened. It also shows the powerful cumulative impact of the work we have done day in and day out over the past decade to hold these companies accountable for the pollution they cause.
To learn more about our work fighting mountaintop removal mining, click here.
Photo on this page by Vivian Stockman – www.ohvec.org