Richmond, VA -- 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.
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 donate 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.
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 final 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 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 take some time to 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 groups were represented in the underlying Clean Water Act cases and today’s settlement by Appalachian Mountain Advocates, a non-profit law firm based in Lewisburg, West Virginia. The groups were also represented in the bankruptcy proceedings by attorneys with the bankruptcy firm Goldstein & McClintock and Earthjustice.
Joe Lovett, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-520-2324
Rudhdi Karnik, Sierra Club, email@example.com, 202-495-3055
Cindy Rank, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-924-5802
Dianne Bady, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, email@example.com, 302-522-0246