FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 19, 2023
Adam Malle, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards Administrator, firstname.lastname@example.org
Erin Savage, Appalachian Voices Senior Program Manager, email@example.com
Tim Cywinski, Sierra Club VA Chapter Communications Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
Norton, Va. — Today, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Appalachian Voices and the Sierra Club announced a settlement with A&G Coal Corporation, owned by the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, to help ensure the reclamation of three large surface coal mines in Wise County, Virginia. The community groups are represented by attorneys with Sierra Club, Appalachian Mountain Advocates and the Morris Law Office. The settlement has been lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.
The mines — permits 1101905, 1101914 and 1101918 — were first permitted in 2004 and disturbed more than 3,300 acres of land over almost two decades. In their complaint initiating the lawsuit resolved by today’s settlement, the groups cite data from Virginia Department of Energy showing that just over 900 acres had been regraded and revegetated, and that most of that work had been completed nearly a decade ago. State and federal laws require contemporaneous reclamation to ensure that coal companies do not leave mines unreclaimed once they are no longer producing coal. While the three mines produced an average of about 1.5 million tons of coal per year in their first decade, production from the mines declined steeply in the last 10 years, falling to zero over the last few years. Despite the decline in production, A&G made little progress reclaiming the mines.
The board of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) prioritizes corporate accountability for the destructive impact of mountaintop removal coal extraction. “This settlement represents a decade of persistent focus on holding A&G Coal accountable to the communities negatively impacted by their extraction practices” said Terran Young, Board President of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “During the past 10 years, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards has maintained steady pressure to ensure these A&G mining sites are properly reclaimed and prevent the cleanup costs from being dumped on Virginia taxpayers. With this settlement, the SAMS Board of Directors hopes to finally reclaim a semblance of justice for the impacted communities and begin the healing process for lands that will never resemble their former majesty.”
Virginia Energy entered a consent agreement with A&G in 2014 that resulted in limited reclamation, but nearly a decade later, none of the three mines are reclaimed. Although Virginia has eliminated the practice of allowing mine operations to “self-bond” — as opposed to securing third-party reclamation bonds — Virginia Energy has allowed the three mines to remain primarily self-bonded for a total of just under $9 million in self-bonding. This makes them particularly vulnerable to a lack of funding for reclamation in the event of permit forfeiture. Based on data from Virginia Energy and independent research, the true cost of reclamation could be substantially higher than the bond amounts.
“There are roughly 50,000 acres of surface mines in Virginia that still need to be reclaimed,” said Erin Savage, Senior Program Manager at Appalachian Voices. “These three mines are several of the largest and most costly in Wise County. They are particularly important to clean up because they are inadequately covered by self-bonds. If A&G were to forfeit these permits, it could be very difficult for the state to actually get the bond money, especially in the case of bankruptcy.”
Under the settlement, A&G has committed to completing reclamation by Aug. 31, 2023, at permit 1101905; Feb. 29, 2024, at permit 1101918; and Dec. 31, 2025, at permit 1101914. These deadlines are later than those in the earlier state agreement, but compliance is now enforceable by a court order. Also, failure to meet interim deadlines will result in higher stipulated penalties of $37,500, and violations of the final deadlines will carry higher stipulated penalties of $75,000 at each site. Violation of reclamation deadlines will also impose a prohibition on coal removal at the three sites. In addition, A&G will fund a dedicated reclamation escrow account with a portion of revenue from any coal mined at the three mines, up to $600,000.
“It’s critically important that every coal mine be fully reclaimed by the operator in order to ensure that local communities are not burdened with ongoing negative environmental impacts,” said Judy Gayer, Conservation and Legal Chair for Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter. “We’re pleased that today’s settlement will accelerate the reclamation of these three sites and benefit communities in Wise County.”
Appalachian Voices is a leading nonprofit advocate for a healthy environment and just economy in the Appalachian region, and a driving force in America’s shift from fossil fuels to a clean energy future.