April 8, 2009
Environmental Protection Agency Intervenes to Block A&G Coal’s Ison Rock Ridge Mine
Appalachia, Virginia -- In a victory for community members and for clean water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revoke the "nationwide 21" mining permit for A&G Coal’s massive Ison Rock Ridge mountaintop removal coal mine in Southwest Virginia. The news comes only weeks after a delegation of Appalachian coalfield residents met with the EPA in Washington, D.C. urging the Agency to take quick action to protect their communities from the ravages of mountaintop removal coal mining. The bold move is the latest clear signal that the Obama Administration is taking action on mountaintop removal coal mining and supports clean energy solutions and green jobs. Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), a community organization based in Wise County, Virginia, and the Sierra Club have worked for two years to oppose strip mining on Ison Rock Ridge.
"This is a great day! I am hopeful it means the beginning of the end of the wholesale destruction of the Appalachian Mountains, its watersheds, its streams, its people, and its soul," said Kathy Selvage, vice president of SAMS.
The Army Corps had been relying on a cookie-cutter "nationwide" permit for the Ison Rock Ridge mine, but in the EPA's recommendation that the Army Corps revoke the permit the Agency raised concerns about the mine's impact on waterways that were not addressed in the "nationwide" permit. By dumping its mining waste into valleys and waterways, the Ison Rock Ridge mountaintop removal coal mining operation would be extremely destructive. Residents are also concerned with the proximity of the proposed mine to their homes, as portions of the permit are within the corporate limits of the town of Appalachia and surround several other nearby communities.
"I'm so relieved and grateful the EPA has taken this action," said Gary Bowman, whose home is only hundreds of feet away from a proposed sediment pond for the permit. "We were stuck between a rock and a hard place with this permit and are so happy that we will be able to stay in our home."
The company that operates the Ison Rock Ridge site, A&G Coal, is known for its role in the August 20, 2004 tragedy in which a boulder from an A&G strip mine rolled down a hillside and crashed into a family's Wise County home below, killing a sleeping three-year-old child in his bedroom.
"The days of reckless, unchecked destruction of Appalachian mountains are numbered," said Mary Anne Hitt, Deputy Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. "There is much more work to do, but President Obama’s EPA has taken bold action on mountaintop removal coal mining, and we applaud their intervention."
The Ison Rock Ridge permit in Wise County, Virginia, covers nearly 1,300 acres and would destroy three miles of streams and fill nine lush valleys with more than 11 million cubic yards of rock and dirt. The massive mountaintop removal coal mine would surround the community of Derby, bringing destruction within a half mile of the historic district, eliminating the community’s tourism appeal. Other nearby affected communities include Andover, Inman, and Osaka and the Town of Appalachia.
"I'm walking on air," said Derby resident Bob Mullins, who recently returned from a meeting with the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "I feel like we've finally accomplished something. This is a great victory to start with and now it's time to get our friends and neighbors together to continue fighting for the cause and building this movement that is truly gaining momentum."
Mountaintop removal mining is a destructive form of coal mining that has already contaminated or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams. The mining poisons drinking water, lays waste to wildlife habitat, increases the risk of flooding and wipes out entire communities. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org/MTR or http://www.samsva.org/.