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May 07, 2013

Ison Rock in Virginia Saved from Mountaintop-Removal Coal Mining, For Now

Ison rockMountain lovers everywhere high-fived today when the news came down that the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy has denied a surface mine permit for the Ison Rock Ridge mine in southwest Virginia.

While A&G Coal Company, the ones applying for the permit, said they will appeal, this is a great grassroots victory for now.

Look at the destruction this mountaintop removal mine would've caused:

The Ison Rock Ridge mine would have obliterated approximately 1,300 acres of steep, forested, mountainous terrain near the town of Appalachia, Virginia - one of the very few, if not the only, remaining mountain ridges in Wise County that hasn't yet been destroyed by the coal industry. The mine would have buried about 14,000 feet of streams with more than 11 million cubic yards of rock and dirt in nine valley fills. Sediment ponds would've discharged pollutants to various streams, including Callahan Creek – an "impaired" waterway – and Looney Creek – a proposed "impaired" waterway.  Worst of all, the mining would've inflicted severe and unconscionable harm on surrounding communities with all its associated blasting, truck traffic, dust and water pollution.

We're sending a big congratulations to the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards for their years of hard work to save this mountain. The Sierra Club was proud to have worked closely with SAMS, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, and many others on this case.

It's worth noting that SAMS is comprised almost entirely of local residents, including former underground miners, who are working to end mountaintop removal mining and to transition the region to a just economic future.

This news comes on the heels of a coalition of environmental groups (including the Sierra Club) calling for stronger water quality protections from the Environmental Protection Agency for Appalachian communities near mountaintop-removal coal mines:

"In a formal petition for rulemaking, 18 Appalachian local, regional, and national groups are petitioning the EPA to set a numeric water quality standard under the Clean Water Act to protect streams in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, and Pennsylvania from pollution caused by mountaintop removal mining."

Good work is happening against mountaintop removal coal mining!

For more info on the Virginia victory, here's the press release from Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards:

Residents of Appalachia Applaud DMME Denial of Ison Rock Ridge Surface Mine

Community Groups Cheer Rejection of Dangerous Surface Mine

The town and coal camps of Appalachia can breathe a sigh of relief today after learning that A & G Coal Corporation has been denied a permit to strip mine Ison Rock Ridge near Appalachia. The 1,200-acre permit, located behind the town of Appalachia and between the coal camps of Inman and Derby, would have had intense impacts on residents already affected by decades of mountaintop removal coal mining.

The permit application was technically approved by the Department of Mines Minerals and Energy in May of 2010 but has been held up for its failure to adhere to water quality standards in nearby Callahan Creek.  Further, Southern Coal, which owns A & G, is required to resolve at least four outstanding violations in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, before the permit could be issued. Finally, the permit is being denied due to A & G's inactivity on the application for at least 2 years.

The A & G coal company plans to contest this decision by the DMME. An informal conference on the company's appeal will be held at the DMME office in Big Stone Gap on Wednesday, May 8th at 10 AM. The conference is open to the public.

The Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards have argued against this dangerous surface mine since 2009. Based in Appalachia, SAMS' membership includes residents of the coal camps adjacent to the proposed permit. SAMS applauds the DMME’s move to deny this dangerous strip mine.
 
SAMS has argued instead for community leaders to get behind efforts to diversify the local economy, and for politicians to give as much support to developing new industries that can sustain our economy as they do to propping up a coal industry failing in the face of natural gas, dwindling reserves and cheaper western coal.

Sam Broach, president of SAMS said, “Preserving our clean mountain water, protecting our productive forests and making this a place businesses want to move to is a key part of building an economy built to last the next 100 years. Stopping the destruction of Ison Rock Ridge is an important first step. ”

For years the prospect of a new mountaintop removal mine, with increased blasting, dust, truck traffic and sedimentation of the streams has hung over the area like a black cloud. The four valley fills included in the operation threatened to bury headwater streams and increase concentrations of toxic heavy metals in streams, like Callahan Creek, already legally recognized as impaired.

Judy Needham, SAMS member and resident of the coal camp of Andover, reacted to the news: “after living for years with blasting from A & G’s operations on Kelly’s Branch, the idea of another strip mine above Andover, was just too much to consider. Blasting has impacted so many communities already. Enough is enough.” More than 20 peer-reviewed studies since 2010 have shown a connection between proximity to mountaintop removal operations like Ison Rock Ridge and poor health outcomes, including higher cancer, heart, lung and kidney disease rates.

This type of mountaintop removal mining is a last ditch effort by the coal industry to extract profits from a dwindling supply in an increasingly competitive fuel market. “Coal executives realize that coal production and markets for Appalachian coal are declining”, said SAMS’ board member Judiana Stines. “As those reserves go down, companies will move elsewhere, leaving mass destruction, more poverty, and severe health problems behind. It is up to us, to stand together, united, and speak out against this permit, and against the destruction of any more mountains. We want to let citizens know that we can be their voice if they need one, and that SAMS is here to stay and build a brighter, healthier and cleaner tomorrow.” Stopping the destruction of Ison Rock Ridge is an important first step.
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The Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards is a community organization committed to ending the destruction of our communities by surface coal mining, to improving the quality of life in our area, and to helping build sustainable communities in Southwest Virginia and Southern Appalachia.
www.SAMSVA.org

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