One Big Step Closer to Ending Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
Today, Patriot Coal Corporation (NYSE: PCX) announced its intention to immediately begin phasing out all large scale surface mining in Appalachia. The announcement follows an historic agreement with the Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, represented by attorneys from Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
Patriot, which filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy on July 9, sought approval from the groups for an extension to the schedule under which the company is required–pursuant to a court order and settlement resolving prior litigation with the groups–to install expensive pollution controls at several mines in West Virginia. Astonishingly, along with its commitment to end large scale surface mining in the region, the company also acknowledged the impact this destructive form of mining has on local communities and announced its commitment to reduce its environmental footprint. Patriot is among the largest mountaintop removal coal mine operators in Appalachia.
“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.
Patriot will also withdraw two applications for Clean Water Act section 404 valley fill permits currently pending before the Army Corps of Engineers, and will surrender its remaining rights under a third permit. These section 404 permits allow companies to dump the waste from mountaintop removal mines into valleys, burying streams and headwaters that are critical to local biodiversity. Further, Patriot has committed to not apply for any additional large-scale surface mine permits, has agreed to not open any new stand-alone surface mines and will only conduct small scale surface mining in conjunction with existing and planned underground mining. The agreement allows Patriot to move forward with its plans to open one new metallurgical coal mine for which a section 404 permit application is pending, but preserves the right of the groups to challenge that permit in the event that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies water quality concerns with the permit. Patriot will also donate $500,000 to a West Virginia nonprofit organization to be identified by the parties.
Patriot has issued the following statement:
"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. This settlement is consistent with Patriot Coal’s business plan to focus capital on expanding higher margin metallurgical coal production and limiting thermal coal investments to selective opportunities where geologic and regulatory risks are minimized. Patriot Coal urges the Court to approve the settlement because it strengthens the Company’s ability to continue operating with our nearly 4000 employees, and significantly increases the likelihood that we will emerge from the chapter 11 process as a viable business, able to satisfy our environmental and other obligations.”
“It's heartening any day we learn that a major player decides that mountaintop removal is not in the best interest—of the company or of our mountains, streams, and communities,” said Jim Sconyers, chair of the West Virginia Sierra Club. “We look forward to the day when full implementation of this agreement is achieved.”
In return, Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy have agreed to file a joint motion with Patriot that will extend the time the company is allowed to comply with court ordered selenium controls at the Hobet mine by 15 months. The coalition will also allow Patriot to extend the date of compliance for selenium treatment at 42 other outlets at other mines and facilities by 12 months.
“We've been saying for many years that if companies had to pay the real costs of mountaintop removal, it would not be economically feasible,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “Hopefully, it’s now become clear that when coal companies are required to prevent illegal selenium pollution and pay the costs for cleanup themselves it’s simply doesn’t make economic sense to continue this destructive form of mining.”
“We hope that this agreement, while holding Patriot responsible for its legacy of mining pollution, puts the company in a strong enough financial condition through its underground mining that it can honor its obligations to its retirees and workers,” said Dianne Bady of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.
The Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy were represented in the matter by Joe Lovett and Derek Teaney of Appalachian Mountain Advocates. The agreement was announced during a proceeding before Judge Robert Chambers of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.
Visit EcoWatch’s MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL page for more related news on this topic.
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By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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By Zheng Chen and Darren H. S. Tan
As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing. And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.