Patriot Coal quits mountaintop removal

Charleston, W.Va. – On Thursday, Patriot Coal, the second largest producer of surface-mined coal in West Virginia announced plans to abandon mountaintop removal coal extraction.
The announcement is a result of legal action by the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, represented by attorneys from Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

Mace resident Amon Tracey is a retired coal company general manager. Tracey says he did not supervise mountaintop removal.

“Not exactly that, however, I worked close to where it was going on and I did have under my supervision strip mines, which is the same thing, but they don’t take off the whole top of the mountain off. They just cut a ring around the mountain.”

The former industry official gives his opinion on Thursday’s announcement.

“Well, it has some good and some bad,” he said. “Down in Kentucky, where I finished coal mining, we had mountaintop removal down there. About half of the city of Hazard is built on a level piece of ground, where it was mountaintop removal. The first elk herd that came into Kentucky was – the elk were released in a mountaintop removal area, that had been reclaimed. Beautiful area – the elk have just done excellent. I don’t know how many thousand head they have now, but it’s a bunch.

“I feel like there’s times that they will dump some of the overburden into some of the streams and, you know, we really don’t want to do that. We don’t want to destroy any water. However, whenever you take the whole top of the mountain off, you almost have got to dump some of the overburden into the stream and I didn’t like that part of it.

“It’s bound to take away some jobs. But I think that any coal which is removed from mountaintop removal can be removed from an underground mine. Maybe not all, but a good portion.

“It certainly will be fine with me if they have agreed to discontinue mountaintop removal. It can never and will never be put back the way it originally was.”

Local Sierra Club representative Beth Little gives her opinion.

“Well, we’ve been saying for years that if coal companies were bearing the true cost of mountaintop removal, which should include cleaning up after themselves, mountaintop removal would not be a cost-effective process,” she said. “It’s taken time but the health studies are finally coming out. People that live in the coal counties have a much higher incidence of cancer and birth defects because of the chemicals, the pollutants, the toxins that end up in the air and the water around mountaintop removal sites. That’s what the suit was about – to force the companies to prevent these impacts on people’s health. I just don’t understand how anyone could sacrifice people’s lives for cheap energy. especially since we’re now exporting coal to China.

“When they remove the whole top of the mountain, including all the vegetation and the topsoil and everything and dump it in the valleys, the impact to the wildlife there – the whole ecological cycle – are immense. You know, it kills all the life in the streams because the stream headwaters are where the nutrients come from to support the life in the stream – the fish and other aquatic life.

“Mountaintop removal, since it came along, has been responsible for eliminating tens of thousands of jobs in the mining industry. If they were deep-mining the coal, there would be a lot more jobs.”

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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