Residents of Appalachia, VA Applaud Denial of Ison Rock Ridge Surface Mine
May 7, 2013
The towns and coal camps of Appalachia can breathe a sigh of relief after learning that the A & G Coal Corporation has been denied a permit to strip mine Ison Rock Ridge. The proposed 1,200-acre mountaintop removal mine, located behind the town of Appalachia and between the coal camps of Inman and Derby in southwest Virginia, would have had intense impacts on residents already affected by decades of coal mining.
The decision by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals & Energy (DMME) to deny the mine’s application for a permit under the Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) is only the most recent hurdle faced by the controversial mine. In 2010, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) objected to a Clean Water Act discharge permit for the mine. In 2009, the US Army Corp of Engineers suspended another permit required for the mine that would have authorized the filling of streams with mining waste.
The mine’s SMCRA permit application was technically approved by the DMME 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 Sierra Club and its ally the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) 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.
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. ”
To read more about stopping Mountaintop Removal and other destructive mining, click here.
May 8, 2009
On May 6, 2009, in a huge victory for Appalachian communities and the environment, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers informed A&G Coal Corporation that it was suspending the company’s previously issued “Nationwide 21” permit for the filling of streams at its proposed Ison Rock Ridge mountaintop removal mine in southwest Virginia. A&G had proposed mining nearly 1,300 acres of forested, mountainous terrain and dumping over 11 million cubic yards of rock and dirt into 9 valley fills. These fills and 20 sediment control ponds would have destroyed over two and a half miles of streams.
The Corps’ action comes on the heels of the EPA’s recommendation that the Corps revoke the permit because it failed to consider the cumulative impacts of surface mining on local waterways and communities. The Corps informed A&G that the suspension was due to the “significant lapse in time” between federal approval and state review, in addition to concerns raised by the EPA. Sierra Club and SAMS had also challenged the Corps permit on May 1st in federal court, raising similar concerns to those articulated by the EPA and further requesting that the court void the Corps’ blanket authorization of strip mining activities under Nationwide Permit 21.
A&G also needs a state mining permit for its project and the Virginia Department of Mines Minerals and Energy (DMME) was due to issue a decision on the permit on May 8th. But in response to the Corps permit suspension, the DMME instead sent a letter to A&G requesting additional information, including a map indicating areas where mining could potentially occur without the Corps permit. DMME also indicated that it will announce its decision to approve or disapprove the mining permit on July 7, 2009.
Local community members, Sierra Club, and other environmental groups are calling upon DMME to deny the state mining permit outright. Even if DMME does eventually issue a mining permit, A&G will likely have to begin the Corps permitting process again and acquire a permit that is subject to much more rigorous environmental review before it can disturb any streams.
April 9, 2009
On April 8, 2009, in a monumental victory for community members and the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers revoke A&G Coal’s mining permit for its massive Ison Rock Ridge mountaintop removal coal mine in Southwest Virginia. The EPA’s recommendation to the Corps raised concerns about the mine’s impact on waterways that were not addressed in the permit, and comes shortly after Appalachian community members met with the EPA in Washington, D.C. urging the Agency to take swift action to protect their communities from the devastating impacts of mountaintop removal 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. The news comes as a huge victory to Sierra Club and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), a community organization based in Wise County, Virginia, who have worked for two years to oppose strip mining on Ison Rock Ridge.
August 15, 2008
Ison Rock Ridge Logging Injunction Upheld!
In an important victory, a federal judge denied a motion by Landholder Penn Virginia and logging company Mountain Forest Products to dissolve a preliminary injunction that has halted clear-cutting operations on an unpermitted mountaintop removal mining site in Southwest Virginia.
As Kathy Selvage, vice president of Southern Appalachian Mountain explains, “MTR destroys everything we hold dear: our mountains, watersheds, and streambeds; the purity of air and water for our future generations; our communities, our people’s health, our quiet nights and our daily peace of mind. What does it give us? Turmoil."
At issue is whether the logging falls within the definition of "surface coal mining operations," under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), which defines the phrase to include "activities conducted on the surface of lands in connection with a surface coal mine" The Sierra Club and SAMS maintain that, because a coal mining application has been filed, and because the application seeks permission to clear vegetation and harvest timber in order to prepare the site for mining, the clear-cutting is occurring "in connection with" the proposed strip mine. The legal issue is a matter of first impression for the courts.
In this most recent ruling, the judge found that, while Mountain Forest Product's contractor "would suffer some inconvenience and added expense resulting from the entry of the preliminary injunction," the likelihood of harm to the Sierra Club and SAMS "continued to outweigh that to the defendants," and accordingly, the court left the injunction in place.
August 7, 2008
Industry groups have asked the court to dismiss its injunction halting logging on Ison Rock Ridge. A public hearing will take place on Thursday, August 7 at 1:30 p.m. at the Federal Court House in Abingdon.
View the court calendar here.
August 4, 2008
In a victory for community members and for clean water, a district court judge issued a preliminary injunction stopping clear-cutting operations on an unpermitted mountaintop removal mining site in Southwest Virginia. The Sierra Club and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) had requested the injunction after bulldozers and chainsaws started clear-cutting A&G Coal’s Ison Rock Ridge coal mine site even though the mine had not received a permit.
Under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, it is illegal to conduct "surface coal mining operations" without a permit. This decision reaffirms the community’s belief that clearcutting a mine site after a mining application has been submitted qualifies as "mining operations."
Aaron Isherwood, Sierra Club Senior Staff Attorney, explains: "This court ruling is a huge victory for the communities of Appalachia that have suffered for far too long from the devastating effects of mountaintop removal mining. If it stands, I think it will have major repercussions throughout the region."
August 1, 2008
There will be a hearing at the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia on Friday, August 1, 2008 at 1pm. The Court House is located at 180 West Main Street, Abingdon, Virginia 24210. Court calendar available here.
July 25, 2008
On July 25, 2008, the Sierra Club and the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) took an unprecedented step by acting to halt unlawful mining practices at A & G Coal’s proposed mountaintop removal mine in Wise County, Virginia. On July 11, 2008 workers with Mountain Forest Products began clear cutting land, the first step in opening the Ison Rock Ridge Mine, which does not yet have a permit from the State.
Though illegal, clear cutting the mine site before the mine has been approved, as is happening with the Ison Rock Ridge Mine, is a common practice. This legal action is the first to challenge this practice for mountaintop removal mining in Virginia and could have significant implications for future mountaintop removal coal mining operations.
"Everybody around here knows that clear cutting the land is just the first step-- next they’ll start blasting the mountains and burying our streams and valleys," said Gary Bowman, a member of the groups who lives adjacent to the mining site. The clear cutting has caused more than a dozen large rocks the size of watermelons to tumble down the mountain on to his lawn and family garden. "They want to break our hearts by taking all these trees so we won’t have the heart to keep fighting. But these mountains are our legacy and our home and we’re not going to stop fighting to save them," he added.
The proposed Ison Rock Ridge mine will destroy over one thousand acres of forested mountains-- work that has already begun despite the lack of government approval. Plans for the Ison Rock Ridge mine include filling 9 lush valleys with more than 11 million cubic yards of mining waste and destroying more than 14,000 feet of streams.
"Mountaintop removal mining destroys everything we hold dear: our mountains, watersheds, and streambeds; the purity of air and water for our future generations; our communities, our people’s health, our quiet nights and our daily peace of mind," said Kathy Selvage, vice president of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. "What does it give us? Turmoil."
Sierra Club and SAMS are also working to stop Dominion Power's proposed coal-fired power plant in Wise County, which will only worsen the problem of mountaintop removal mining, driving up demand for coal at any cost to local communities.
The Sierra Club and SAMS filed for a temporary restraining order seeking an end to the clear cutting on the proposed A&G Coal mine site until the company obtains a surface mining permit. The groups are represented in this matter by attorney Walton Morris. The permit issuance for the Ison Rock Ridge mine has already been delayed, and the application has been revised six times in the past year due to strong concerns raised by community members about the effects of the mine on area residents.
Details and Documents:
Ison Rock In Virginia Saved From MTR Coal Mining, for now
May 10, 2013
Permit denied for Ison Rock Ridge surface mine
DMME denies mining permit, coal company appeals
May 9, 2013
May 9, 2013
Ison Rock Letters to the Editor
US Army Corps of Engineers Permit Suspension Letter
May 6, 2009
Sierra Club Press Release
April 8, 2009
EPA Letter to US Army Corps of Engineers re Ison Rock Ridge Mining Permit
April 3, 2009
Sierra Club Press Release
August 4, 2008
August 4, 2008
Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation
August 2, 2008
Groups File Federal Suit Opposing Ison Rock Ridge Mining Permit
May 1, 2009by Debra McCown,TriCities.com
Sierra Club challenges Va. mining permit
May 1, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.,The Charleston Gazette
EPA Asks Corps to Revoke Ison Rock Ridge Permit
April 10, 2009by Debra McCown,TriCities.com
EPA objects to more mountaintop removal permits
EPA puts brakes on 3 more mountaintop mining permits
April 10, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr., The Charleston Gazette
April 9, 2009by Eric Bontrager,The New York Times
EPA Intervenes to Block A & G Coal's Ison Rock Ridge Mine
April 9, 2009, Sierra Club, YubaNet.com
EPA Gets Back in the Saddle on Moutaintop Mining Permits
April 8, 2009 by Mike Lillis, The Washington Independent
Judge Halts Wise County Logging
August 5, 2008 by Debra McCown, Bristol Herald Courier
Environmental Groups Sue To Halt Logging At Future Mine Site
July 31, 2008 by Debra McCown, Bristol Herald Courier
Sierra Club and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards Take Action to Stop Unlawful Clear Cutting Related to Coal Mining
July 25, 2008 by Sierra Club of Virginia
See other "Stopping Mountaintop Removal and Other Destructive Mining" cases.