The Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy on Aug. 19 announced a $6 million stream restoration and reforestation settlement with the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund (VCLF).
The settlement will support pilot restoration projects – administered by Appalachian Headwaters – in West Virginia to address the legacy of decades of mountaintop removal coal mining. This announcement came about after VCLF purchased coal mines from Patriot Coal during the company’s bankruptcy last year and the environmental groups succeeded in ensuring that the cleanup obligations for the mines would be respected by the new owner. VCLF has also agreed not to conduct any further surface coal mining in West Virginia, other than coal removal associated with reclamation work.
The VCLF deal included the Federal No. 2 mine in northern West Virginia, plus various properties needing post-mining reclamation.
“No coal mine owner is exempt from cleaning up the scarred landscape left behind by years of mining, or the need to protect local communities from the filthy waste that can leach from their mines and contaminate local land and water resources,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “As a West Virginian, I’m pleased that this settlement will go toward cleaning up mining sites across my state and hold VCLF accountable to the communities who have such deep roots in these areas.”
As part of the $6 million settlement, VCLF received a three-and-a-half year extension to the selenium water pollution treatment deadlines in an existing settlement reached between the groups and Patriot Coal, and was given a reprieve from a Clean Water Act conductivity pollution enforcement case brought by the environmental groups – though the groups said they can re-file that case again in the future.
The pilot reforestation and restoration projects to be funded under the settlement will go beyond the minimal mine site cleanup required under current law. Appalachian Headwaters will work with leading researchers to develop new reclamation methods to restore native hardwood forests and healthy streams.
Said the VCLF website about its ERP Compliant Fuels LLC subsidiary: “On October 27, 2015 ERP completed its $400+ million acquisition of 149 mining permits from bankrupt Patriot Coal Corporation (Patriot), for the purpose of undertaking large scale land reclamation through reforestation and improving water quality. ERP and its partners continue to operate the Federal Underground Mining Complex in Morgantown, West Virginia, which was acquired from Patriot to promote the sale of Compliant Fuel. ERP will reclaim land and improve water quality in the states of West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. ERP has also purchased thousands of acres of former mined lands from Patriot and plans to plant millions of trees as carbon offsets to be sold along with future coal production. The plan would also jump-start remediation and reclamation on dozens of old mine sites throughout the East while keeping hundreds of coal miners employed in the distressed Appalachian region. ERP is committed to the forest reclamation approach creating economic opportunities for Appalachian communities. As part of the acquisition, ERP continues to maintain 683 jobs in West Virginia through the operation of the Federal Mining Complex and its forest reclamation activities.”