Patriot Coal, one of the largest coal companies in America, recently announced its decision to end mountaintop removal mining (MTR)  in the Appalachian Mountains.
To date, Patriot Coal is the only major coal company in America to pledge to stop mountaintop removal mining. On the surface, it might appear that the company has had a genuine change of heart, but the reality is that this decision was more out of economic necessity than concern for the environment and human health.
Several conservation groups, led by the Sierra Club , have pressured the company to end their destructive MTR practices for years, which resulted in numerous lawsuits filed against the company for environmental abuses. Those lawsuits have led to millions of dollars worth of fines  and verdicts against the coal giant, which in turn gave us its new, anti-MTR platform.
The company released the following statement  regarding its decision:
“Patriot Coal has concluded that the continuation or expansion of surface mining, particularly large scale surface mining of the type common in central Appalachia, is not in its long term interests. Today’s proposed settlement commits Patriot Coal to phase out and permanently exit large scale surface mining and transition our business primarily toward underground mining and related small scale surface mining. Patriot Coal recognizes that our mining operations impact the communities in which we operate in significant ways, and we are committed to maximizing the benefits of this agreement for our stakeholders, including our employees and neighbors. We believe the proposed settlement will result in a reduction of our environmental footprint…”
The coal giant has been found guilty of violations of the Clean Water Act, and has been ordered to install extensive pollution controls for their operations to prevent further contamination. The resulting penalties and lawsuits facing the company helped drive them into bankruptcy  early this summer.
From a Sierra Club press release  on the announcement:
“This is an historic moment for people hardest hit by mountaintop removal coal mining,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “Tens of thousands of people have worked tirelessly to put an end to this destructive process, and today’s agreement is a major step towards ending this abhorrent form of mining and repairing the damage done to communities and ecosystems across the region. Patriot Coal may be the first company to cease mountaintop removal mining but, because of the tireless efforts of committed volunteers and community organizations, it certainly won’t be the last.”
The agreement requires Patriot to move away from, and ultimately cease, mountaintop removal and all other forms of large-scale surface mining in Appalachia. In return, Patriot will be granted additional time to install selenium treatment at several of its mines. Patriot will also retire significant infrastructure required to perform mountaintop removal mining, including the dragline at its Catenary mine complex, which will be retired immediately, and the dragline at its Hobet mine complex, which will be retired in 2015.
In addition to ending MTR, the company also agreed  to withdraw several dumping permits for waste disposal that are currently pending, and to not file any permits for additional surface mining programs.
While their motives might not be the purest, the results are undeniable – this is a massive win for both the environment and the residents of Appalachia.
Expect to see conservationists continue to apply pressure on other companies involved in destroying  the natural beauty of the Appalachian Mountains in their never ending quest for dirty energy.