December 18, 2008
Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club, 512-477-2152
Matt Noerpel, Coal River Mountain Watch, 304-854-2182
Coal River Mountain Watch, Sierra Club Intercede to Save Coal River Mountain
Groups Challenge Mining Permit that would Cut Wind Energy Potential, Threaten Community
Charleston, West Virginia -- In order to protect Coal River Mountain near Beckley, West Virginia from looming destruction by mountaintop removal coal mining, the Sierra Club and Coal River Mountain Watch today filed an administrative notice of appeal with the West Virginia Surface Mine Board. The proposed expansion of the Bee Tree Surface Mine site on the mountain threatens the prime location for wind energy generation and an integral part of the surrounding Appalachian community. The Marfork Coal Company (a Massey Energy subsidiary) seeks to destroy the mountain to extract more coal.
“The state of West Virginia has one more chance to show that it values a clean energy future and high paying, long-term green jobs more than short term profits for coal executives and the destruction of our mountains,” said Lorelei Scarbro with Coal River Mountain Watch.
Today’s action challenges the approval by the Director of the West Virginia Division of Surface Mining of the Department of Environmental Protection to revise the surface mining permit held by Marfork. Under the permit in question, the Massey Energy subsidiary would move some of its mining waste off site to avoid the immediate need for a full Clean Water Act section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Sierra Club and Coal River Mountain Watch argue that Marfork did not properly revise its mining and reclamation plan and that the Surface Mining Board should overturn the decision to approve the permit.
A recent study by Downstream Strategies, LLC of Morgantown, West Virginia showed that wind development is a better economic land use option for Coal River Mountain and other sites than mountaintop removal coal mining. A proposed wind farm at the site, consisting of 164 wind turbines and generating 328 megawatts (MW) of electricity, would provide more than $1.74 million in annual property taxes to Raleigh County. The coal severance taxes for the proposed mining would only provide $36,000 per year.
“It is imperative that Coal River Mountain be preserved for the future economic prosperity of this area,” said Bill Price, Sierra Club Environmental Justice organizer in Charleston. “If the mountain is preserved, and the Coal River Mountain Wind project is allowed to develop, then we are looking at good, union-organized jobs in an area that sorely needs an economic future beyond coal.”
Across Appalachia, mining companies blow the tops off mountains to reach a thin seam of coal and then, to minimize waste disposal costs, dump millions of tons of mining waste into the valleys below, causing permanent damage to the ecosystem and landscape. Mountaintop removal mining has damaged or destroyed approximately 1,200 miles of streams, destroyed forests, disrupted drinking water supplies, flooded communities, and destroyed wildlife habitat.
The Sierra Club and Coal River Mountain Watch are represented in the challenge by Joe Lovett at the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment and Peter Morgan at the Sierra Club.