Patriot Coal to end mountaintop removal mining - WBOY.com: Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Patriot Coal to end mountaintop removal mining

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Updated 3:45 with tonnage caps.

Patriot Coal Corp. announced its intention Nov. 15 to phase out mountaintop mining and other large-scale surface mining in Appalachia.

The announcement came as part of an agreement over water pollution lawsuits filed by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the Sierra Club and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

St. Louis-based Patriot sought approval from the groups for an extension to the schedule under which the company is required — pursuant to a court order and settlement resolving prior litigation with the groups — to install expensive pollution controls at several mines in West Virginia.

According to the agreement, the company will not seek any more permits for "large scale surface mining" — that is, those requiring valley fills.

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

And it agreed to ratchet down its production from surface mining, from 6.5 million tons in 2014 to 6 million in 2015 and 2016, 5 million in 2017 and 3 million in 2018 and thereafter.

In return, Patriot will have additional time to install selenium treatment at several of its mines.

"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," the company said in a prepared statement.

"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," the statement read. "We believe the proposed settlement will result in a reduction of our environmental footprint."

Patriot said the settlement is consistent with its business plan to focus on more profitable metallurgical coal production and to limit thermal coal investments to selective opportunities "where geologic and regulatory risks are minimized."

The company, which also is in bankruptcy proceedings, said the proposed agreement would allow it to postpone $27 million in expenses to 2014 and beyond and would improve its chances of emerging from bankruptcy as a viable enterprise.

The environmental groups cheered the settlement.

"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 of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

The Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy were represented in the matter by Joe Lovett and Derek Teaney of Appalachian Mountain Advocates. The agreement was announced during a proceeding before Judge Robert Chambers of the US District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.