Today, coal mine operator Alpha Natural Resources filed in federal bankruptcy court a settlement with Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and Sierra Club that directs significant funds to stream restoration and reforestation projects in West Virginia. Appalachian Mountain Advocates, a non-profit law firm based in Lewisburg, West Virginia, represented the groups in the underlying Clean Water Act cases that led to today’s settlement. Earthjustice and the bankruptcy firm Goldstein & McClintock represented Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and Sierra Club in the bankruptcy proceedings.
Under the proposed settlement, Alpha must pay an anticipated total of $7.5 million to fund land and stream restoration projects over and above the mine reclamation already required by law at mine sites in West Virginia. Of this amount, $1.3 million will be paid up front when the bankruptcy plan is confirmed, with the remaining $6.2 million due over the next two years. Alpha also must provide more than $1 million of in-kind services by donating equipment time and employee time to carry out the restoration projects. These projects will be implemented by Appalachian Headwaters, a new West Virginia non-profit created for this purpose. Alpha will also give up 53 million tons of coal in Westmoreland and Fayette Counties, PA, to a non-profit for the purpose of preventing that coal from ever being mined or burned.
In exchange, the groups have agreed to provide Alpha with a three-year extension to the deadlines in an existing settlement resolving an earlier Clean Water Act citizen enforcement suit against two of Alpha’s mines. The groups have also agreed to not oppose Alpha’s reorganization plan in the bankruptcy court.
“The scars that Alpha has left on Appalachia are deep and there is much more work to be done, but this is a start in reversing some of the damage Alpha and other mine operators have done to this region,” said Liz Wiles, Chair of the Sierra Club’s West Virginia Chapter. “It is essential that all levels of government and the private sector invest in the workers and the communities who have powered our country for over a century, so that they can enjoy new economic opportunities that provide long term stability. Meanwhile, we will continue to advocate for a bright future for communities affected by coal mining -- starting by putting the funds from this settlement towards reclaiming and restoring Appalachian lands, waters and local economies.”
“Alpha cannot be let off the hook, even as it takes advantage of a bankruptcy process which too often allows debtors to shed liabilities and escape important obligations,” said Dianne Bady of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “This settlement ensures that Alpha contributes something toward restoring the region and invests in putting hard-working families back to work.”
“Decades of short-sighted, misguided decisions by coal companies like Alpha -- with the blessing of West Virginia leaders and federal regulators -- have created a toxic legacy that will linger for decades more,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “This settlement will at least create an opportunity for new reforestation and stream restoration projects designed by reputable scientists to show what will be required to reverse the damage and start a new chapter for Appalachia.”
"Remarkably, state and federal regulators allowed coal companies to blow up mountains with full knowledge of the long-term, irreparable consequences, including the fact that the region’s streams will fail to meet water quality standards for decades,” said Joe Lovett, attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates. “Though the scars will never entirely fade, we must do everything we can to heal this region's deep wounds from mountaintop removal coal mining so that affected families can begin to reclaim their lands -- beginning with this settlement.”
“The settlement achieved by Appalachian communities today is a step toward a long-overdue recovery for this region, which has faced unacceptable harm to its communities, waterways, mountains, and public health while companies have profited from years of mountaintop removal coal mining,” said Emma Cheuse, attorney with Earthjustice. “Bankrupt coal companies must not be allowed to just walk away from the devastating harm they have caused, and we will continue standing with local Appalachian leaders who are fighting for fairness and justice for their communities and environment that have been so deeply hurt by the coal industry.”
Additional information on Appalachian Headwaters can be found here.
Emma Cheuse, Earthjustice, 202-745-5220
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.