Big news this week in the coal industry: Patriot Coal, the third-largest Mountaintop Removal (MTR) coal mining company, is filing for bankruptcy.
Bank of America is among the banks providing bankruptcy filing services for Patriot. This is a real opportunity for BofA to use its influence and environmental ambition to work with Patriot and forward-thinking politicians like West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller to close and clean up those MTR mines and transition the Appalachia region into a producer of clean, renewable energy.
Patriot joins Massey and ICG on the roster of large MTR producers who have fallen into trouble in recent years (Massey and ICG were bought-out by Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal, respectively). Patriot hasn’t received the quantity of negative press that Massey and ICG were awarded, but their operations still left a devastating impact on the communities and ecosystems surrounding their mines: significant selenium pollution.
Selenium is a toxic element that causes reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life. In 2010, in the most significant judicial decision to date to address selenium pollution from coal mines in Appalachia, a federal judge ordered Patriot Coal to prepare $45 million in secured credit to cover the costs of treating the pollutant at two of its coal mines in West Virginia.
In January 2012, attorneys for the Sierra Club and other groups filed a major lawsuit settlement that will require Patriot Coal to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to treat selenium pollution from three of the company’s major MTR mines in West Virginia. The deal required Patriot to build and operate new treatment systems for 43 water discharge outfalls on 10 different permits. The deal also requires Patriot to drop any future plans for mining a major permit — and creating significant selenium pollution — at its Jupiter-Callisto Mine in Boone County, WV.
The sad story of Patriot reinforces the bold speech by West Virginia’s Senator Rockefeller last month. He said that West Virginia coal operators must stop shrugging off climate change and pollution-related health problems and “face reality” about the future of coal.