Posts Tagged ‘end mountaintop removal’

Mine Permit Disputes on Coal River Mountain

Thursday, February 9th, 2017 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

By Elizabeth E. Payne

Alpha Natural Resources and its subsidiaries continue to hold four active surface coal mining permits on West Virginia’s Coal River Mountain. The active permits cover 5,600 acres.

Coal River Mountain Watch argues that one permit for the Eagle 2 Mine, which covers 2,040 acres, should be nullified. The local nonprofit group cites a provision in federal surface mining law that says permits “shall terminate” if mining hasn’t started within three years of a permit being issued.

In dispute is the definition of “shall.” The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has not interpreted “shall” to be binding. Coal River Mountain Watch has challenged this definition in district court. A similar case was successful in Alaska. The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is expected to clarify the rule.

In December 2016, the state approved a mountaintop removal permit for the Long Ridge No. 1 Mine. “[WVDEP] placed Alpha Natural Resources’ profits over the health of the people, the protection of the environment, and basic human decency,” wrote CRMW on its website.

Surface Mining Banned in 75,000 Acres of Tennessee, But New Mine Proposed

Thursday, February 9th, 2017 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

By Elizabeth E. Payne

On Dec. 7, 2016, the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the state of Tennessee’s 2010 petition to designate nearly 75,000 acres off-limits for surface coal mining.

The ban includes ridgelines in the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area and the Emory River Tact Conservation Easement.

“It will provide tremendous economic value for tourism and recreation for future generations,” says DJ Coker, a resident of Campbell County, Tenn., who lives near the protected land.

The state’s petition was filed with the Department of the Interior in 2010 under then-governor Phil Bredesen. The December designation forbids surface coal mining within a 1,200-foot-wide corridor, with a 600-foot buffer on either side of 569 miles of ridgeline.

The decision makes limited exceptions for environmentally beneficial re-mining, such as removing dangerous features from abandoned mine sites, and it does not extend to existing permits, nor does it prohibit underground mining in this area.

Yet many mountain ridges, including in East Tennessee, are not protected. A new surface coal mine has been proposed on 1,500 acres in Claiborne County, Tenn. The proposed Cooper Ridge Mine is not inside the newly protected area and would negatively impact Valley Creek, Hurricane Creek and other mountain streams.

Under Pressure, Patriot Coal to Phase Out Mountaintop Removal

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 - posted by molly

By Brian Sewell

On Nov. 15, amid bankruptcy litigation and multiple lawsuits, Patriot Coal announced it would begin phasing out mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia as part of a settlement over selenium pollution. One of the largest operators in the region, the St. Louis-based spin-off of Peabody Energy is the first major coal operator to announce it will stop using mountaintop removal.

According to the agreement made with the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Patriot will gradually reduce production from surface mines over the next several years and immediately rescind pending permits for new surface mines.

In his statement to U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers, Patriot CEO Ben Hatfield said that Patriot recognizes that its mining operations “impact the communities in which we operate in significant ways,” adding that ending mountaintop removal will reduce the company’s environmental footprint.

Hatfield’s statement, however, focused largely on the financial benefits of reducing the company’s risks as it works through bankruptcy. He added that the settlement is consistent with Patriot’s 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.”

As the industry faces declining domestic use and competition from natural gas, coal operators in Appalachia are turning to metallurgical coal and focusing on meeting the growing demand overseas. By reducing the regulatory and market risks of continuing to operate mountaintop removal mines, Patriot believes it will increase the likelihood of emerging from bankruptcy as a viable business, able to satisfy its obligations to its nearly 4,000 employees.

Unsurprisingly, representatives of environmental groups and the coal industry saw the news differently. Executive director of the Sierra Club Michael Brune said that “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.” On the other hand, West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney remarked that “It’s one company trying to restructure itself. This doesn’t change anything. I don’t think you can apply this universally across the industry or across the state.”

As part of the agreement, Patriot is able to delay $27 million in selenium pollution compliance costs until 2014, improving the company’s ability to pay an estimated $400 million in long-term selenium cleanup costs.

Patriot Coal filed for bankruptcy in July after reporting considerable losses since 2010. On Nov. 27, a federal judge granted a request by Patriot employees to move the bankruptcy litigation from New York City to St. Louis, where Patriot and parent companies Peabody Energy and Arch Coal are based.

Seeing is Believing

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 - posted by molly

The coal industry is fond of saying that there is no mountaintop removal taking place in Tennessee, so we wanted to see for ourselves. Appalachian Voices recently teamed up with the filming crew from “Coal Country” and SouthWings’ award winning pilot Susan Lapis to take an aerial tour of coal-mining counties in the Volunteer State. What we saw, and photographed, was shocking. Using the images we captured, we’ve created a new online resource where you can judge for yourself whether or not the mountains of Tennessee are having their tops removed. Flying over the Cumberland Plateau in October during peak leaf week, we were also able to capture some stunningly beautiful views of Elk Valley, TVA’s 29 MW wind farm on Buffalo Mountain, and some of the most beautiful and biodiverse ecosystems in the United States. Visit, and we invite questions and submissions to

AV and iLoveMountains Launch No More Excuses Campaign

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 - posted by molly

Appalachian Voices, in conjunction with, recently launched a two-pronged campaign to solicit reelected President Obama to end the devastating practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.

With our new report summarizing the human cost of mountaintop removal coal mining and a nationwide campaign through, we are telling the Obama Administration, “No More Excuses — End Mountaintop Removal Now.”

Since the president took office, more than 20 peer-reviewed studies have concluded that mountaintop removal contributes to significantly higher rates of birth defects, cancer, and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases among individuals in the region where the destructive form of mining occurs.

The No More Excuses campaign features children who are already campaigning against mountaintop removal through various groups, including some children that have lived in or near areas impacted by mountaintop removal.

Shortly after winning the election in 2008, President Obama said: “Science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation… It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient – especially when it’s inconvenient.” During his first administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made steps to curtail the rubber-stamping of permits, which made it more difficult for companies to obtain mountaintop removal mining approval, but the measure was struck down by a federal court.

Our special report, “Mapping The Human Cost of Mountaintop Removal,” is also a companion piece to an interactive mapping page unveiled last spring on and designed by Appalachian Voices’ technology team. To read the report, visit
Please join us in telling the Obama Administration that there are no excuses to legitimize the destruction of the Appalachian Mountains: visit to send a letter today.

To the Capitol and Back

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 - posted by interns

Donna Branham recently joined other Appalachian women in West Virginia in shaving her head in an act of mourning and protest against the destruction of the mountains. (Photo by Jamie Goodman)

By Jessica Kennedy
Editorial assistant, Summer 2012

I’ve never seen mountaintop removal. I’ve seen it in pictures, books, movies. I’ve seen it in dreams and reconstructed it in my head. I’ve pictured its destruction settling in my mountains – the giant hills that make Boone the town it is. I am thankful mountaintop removal has not made its home in North Carolina.

One day, I hope I will see it up close so that I can begin to feel the magnitude of it. But after last week, I have seen so much more than stripped mountains. At The Alliance for Appalachia’s 7th annual End Mountaintop Removal Week In Washington, I met people whose lives have been altered, whose health has been damaged, whose homes have been destroyed – all because of mountaintop removal. Seeing the damage to these innocent people was perhaps more powerful than seeing the stripped remains of the mountains themselves.

One Appalachian resident said witnessing mountaintop removal is like seeing someone you love die. (more…)

Storming Capital Hill

Monday, June 11th, 2012 - posted by molly

On June 2, more than 150 people gathered in Washington, D.C., for the 7th annual End Mountaintop Removal Week in Washington, sponsored by The Alliance for Appalachia. After a day of training, participants spent three days meeting with Congressional representatives to urge them to support legislation restoring the Clean Water Act to its original language, as well as talking with federal agencies tasked with regulating coal mining and its impacts.

On Wed., June 6, a Rally for Appalachia took place in the Upper Senate Park across from the Capitol building. More than 100 people attended to listen to speakers and watched as more than six people shaved their heads in a show of mourning for mountains destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining.

In addition, thousands of individuals across the country joined the action from afar by contacting or visiting their congressional representative district offices. Independent groups working with AppRising simultaneously staged peaceful sit-ins at four offices throughout Capitol Hill.

By the third day of the Week in Washington, the Clean Water Protection Act, the Alliance’s legislation in the House, had garnered 125 bi-partisan co-sponsors from all across the country. Recent cosponsors include Representatives Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Hansen Clarke (D-MI), Janice Hahn (D-CA) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).

For more information about the Alliance’s efforts to end mountaintop removal coal mining, and to see images from this year’s event, visit

A Simple Approach to Stewardship

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 - posted by molly

An excerpt from a sermon by Pat Watkins

Lots of people of faith have rejected the overwhelming attractions of consumerism and have begun to give simple gifts at Christmas. Consumerism, which seems to overshadow Christmas far more than any theological reflections, has caused untold damage to our relationships with each other and with the planet. And as those relationships suffer, so too does our relationship with God.

Christian theology is clear. A simple life, free of possessions, is a God-centered life in which spirituality can have room to exist. Jesus told a story in the New Testament about a farmer who at harvest had more crops than he knew what to do with. Instead of giving away his excess food, he decided to tear down his small barns and build bigger ones so he’d have room for all his stuff. Then he decided to eat, drink and be merry. God called him a fool!

Greed is at the root of almost every environmental problem the planet faces. Mountaintop removal coal mining is a great example. All we seem to care about is selling coal in order to make a few rich people even richer. It’s not about supplying electricity or providing jobs in Appalachia. It’s about building even bigger barns for those in power while the people and the planet, continue to suffer. Greed is even more important than human life, as was evidenced in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster of 2010 in which 29 Massey Energy miners lost their lives in the name of greed.

The Psalms have beautiful words about the mountains: “The peaks of the mountains are God’s also,” and, “Let the mountains sing together for joy.” I can’t imagine what God must feel as He watches the mountains of Appalachia disappear.

Nowhere in the Biblical witness is there any evidence that God created the mountains so we could destroy them in order to become even richer; in fact, the Biblical witness declares just the opposite. When humans succumb to greed, our relationship with God is in peril.
In the Old Testament, God instructed the Israelites to allow the land to observe a Sabbath — or let the land lie unplanted — every seventh year. But the Israelites disobeyed God and ignored the Sabbath rule to make more money with that planting. When greed becomes more important than all else, our relationships with each other, the planet, and God become compromised and can be lost all together.

As we enter this holiday season, may we contemplate a simple life for ourselves and our families in terms of our gift-giving, and may we contemplate a simple life for the land as well. My prayer for all of you this holiday season is that in love and light you will find your birth and that in peace and freedom you will continue to redeem the Earth.