Front Porch Blog

Virginia Issues Ison Rock Permit Despite Overwhelming Concerns

“Reclaimed” Portions of Black Mountain in Wise County, VA.

Undeterred by the concerns of local communities, peer reviewed scientists, and the federal government, the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) recently announced approval of a vast 1,230 acre surface coal mine permit for A&G Coal’s Ison Rock Ridge Mine in Wise County, Virginia.

This is crushing news for the communities and ecology of southwestern Virginia, as according to Mike Abbott, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, “all that’s needed now for mining to begin is for A&G Coal to submit its bond and fees to DMME.” Less than a quarter of the site can be mined at this point, though, as A&G still requires a 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Threatened communities are numerous. Portions of the mining permit extend within the town of Appalachia. The massive operation will condemn tourism in nearby Derby. Andover, Osaka, and Inman also face significant risk. Inman, in particular, faces immediate risk; the community sits directly below the site area DMME has deemed mineable.

Considering the history between the town of Inman and A&G, the issuance of DMME’s permit is additionally unjust. In 2004, A&G operations caused a boulder to tumble from another nearby mine site into Inman, killing three-year-old Jeremy Davidson in his bed.

The surface mine also constitutes a serious threat to the area’s environment. As noted previously, the operation would destroy over 1,200 acres. In addition, it would fill three miles of streams within the Powell River watershed with over 11 million cubic yards of mining waste. Area streams are already significantly impacted by surface mining; the DMME itself has recorded conductivity readings at Looney Creek and Callahan Creek that are nearly 60% higher than new rules outlined by the Obama Administration.

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, a Wise County community organization, has been fighting A&G’s permit for three years. Sam Broach, president of SAMS explains: “They’re not looking out for the safety of the people and environment, and they’re going to blast this mountain despite the federal rules. Basically, we’re going to keep up the fight. We’re not quitting here. They only care about the bottom dollar, and we care about the future of our community.”


Following the Virginia DMME’s announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to the department noting “the NPDES permit cannot be issued until EPA withdraws its objection.” The NPDES Clean Water Act discharge permit referred to in this letter would be required for any mining to occur on the site.




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