Community Groups Settlement Forces A&G Coal Company to Treat Pollution Discharges Agreement addresses several pollution sources and advances community project

WISE COUNTY, VA – Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices today lodged a consent decree with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia resolving their 2014 Clean Water Act enforcement suit against Penn Virginia Operating Company. The suit sought to address unpermitted discharges of selenium and sulfate into several tributaries of Callahan Creek in Wise County, VA. Both pollutants are known to be harmful to aquatic life.

As a result of the settlement, A&G Coal Company – which operates a neighboring mine – will treat three seeps currently discharging selenium into the Kelly Branch tributary of Callahan Creek.

“Selenium pollution is widespread below surface mines and can have long-term impacts on fish and other wildlife. Treating this pollution before it has a chance to enter public rivers is important not only for the rivers themselves, but also the people who rely on them,” said Matt Hepler

The settlement also requires the companies to provide $35,000 for the initial cleanup assessment of a nearby abandoned coal processing site, known as Tipple Hill, in Norton, VA. Once the site has been restored, it could be included in the Norton Guest River Walk project. The Tipple Hill project is supported by the City of Norton, the Virginia DMME, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the Upper Tennessee River Roundtable.

“We are pleased to not only clean up several sources of water pollution in the area, but also to contribute to a project that will address a long-standing problem in Norton and benefit the community as a whole,” said Erin Savage, Central Appalachian Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices.

“While the deal still requires approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice, we’re confident the agencies will recognize the benefits the agreement will provide to the local community, which has suffered tremendous harm from mountaintop removal coal mining, such as higher rates of pollution-related illness,” said Gabby Gillespie, a Sierra Club organizer based in southwest Virginia.

The consent decree settlement agreement will be lodged with the court for 45 days pending review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The groups were represented in this litigation by attorneys with Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

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SAMS Election 2016

Its that time of year again!

Reminder. The annual election for the SAMS board of directors will be March 15th. Nominations for the SAMS board are now open, and will close at the SAMS February membership meeting (Feb 16).

If you would like to make a nomination of a SAMS board member, Please contact Gabby Gillespie at Gabby will be checking to see if your membership dues are current as you nominate. SAMS will be accepting nominations for President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, and two board member positions.

Please note: People who pay their dues after March the 8th, will be ineligible to vote in the upcoming election. You must be present at the SAMS office to vote on March 15th.

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Kelly Branch Surface Mine Settlement To Result in Cleaner Water, Healthier Community

WISE COUNTY, VA – The Sierra Club, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, and Appalachian Voices today filed a consent decree resolving the 2012 Clean Water Act enforcement suit against A&G Coal Corporation, a subsidiary owned by coal billionaire Jim Justice, and found responsible for toxic selenium pollution from its Kelly Branch Surface Mine in Wise County, Virginia in 2014. As part of the settlement, the company must pay more than $300,000 in penalties and fees, the bulk of which will go toward three supplemental environmental projects that will clean up legacy coal sites in southwest Virginia. An earlier court order in the litigation required the company to secure enforceable permit limits for its discharges of selenium.

The projects, at three different sites, will each reduce surface water pollution, thereby improving the environment and reducing risks to the environment and to public health. The projects must, per the settlement, primarily benefit the public and the environment, not the polluter.

“We are pleased to see controls put on A&G Coal Corporation’s pollution and to have secured a penalty that will be used to benefit the community,” said Glen Besa, Director of Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter. “Today, we declare victory for our community against this polluter. It is a shame, however, that it continues to fall to groups like ours to protect our communities and our environment from this dirty industry.”

Today’s filing comes after the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ July 2014 decision finding A&G Coal Corporation liable for its selenium pollution and ultimately accountable for discharging toxic pollution at levels that exceed state water quality standards. Selenium, a toxic element that can cause reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life, is discharged from many surface coal-mining operations across Appalachia. Selenium accumulates in the tissues of aquatic organisms over time, and experts predict that waterways across Appalachia could be on the brink of collapse due to increasing levels of the pollutant.

“I am very excited about our ability to secure an agreement that will clean up and enhance these legacy coal tipple sites and that will therefore contribute to water quality improvements in our community’s watershed,” said Jane Branham with Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “Without the money coming from this settlement agreement, these eyesores — which should have been cleaned up long ago — would have remained in place.”

“We are pleased that this case not only resulted in addressing the selenium pollution from A&G’s mine, but will also address years-worth of unaddressed coal pollution. Communities in Southwest Virginia are working hard toward economic diversification and having clean rivers and streams is an vital part of that work,” said Erin Savage, Central Appalachian Campaign Coordinator.

The consent decree settlement agreement will be lodged with the court for 45 days pending review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The groups were represented in this litigation by attorneys with Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

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Wise County Board of Supervisors join growing list of localities supporting POWER+ Plan

The Wise County Virginia Board of Supervisors joined a growing number of Appalachian communities voicing support for the White House’s POWER+ Plan at its regular August meeting this evening. The Board unanimously approved a resolution supporting the federal budget proposal, which would steer billions of dollars for economic development and diversification to Appalachia’s coal-impacted communities, including those in Southwest Virginia.

Citing the “dramatic economic transition [from] the decline in the coal industry” the resolution notes that the POWER+ Plan could “reactivate idle equipment and put laid-off miners and other local residents to work reclaiming abandoned mine lands.”

The Wise resolution is the latest in a rising tide of support from local communities calling on Congress to advance the POWER+ Plan during the federal budget process. . On July 23, the Norton, Va., City Council became the first in the nation to pass a resolution in favor of the plan. The City of Whitesburg, Ky. passed a similar resolution on August 11, as did the Cumberland Plateau planning district on July 30.

The POWER+ Plan creates new funding and bolsters existing federal programs designed to diversify the economy in areas that have relied heavily on coal and are experiencing job losses as a result of contractions in the coal economy in recent years.

Citizen groups across Appalachia are promoting the plan, which is currently the most comprehensive proposal to support much-needed economic development in the region.

“It is so heartening to see the growing number of localities taking a positive stance on the very urgent issue of economic diversification in Central Appalachia,” said Adam Wells of Appalachian Voices, who worked with the County government to introduce the resolution.

“By passing this resolution, the Wise County Board of Supervisors is sending a clear message that the time for economic diversification is now and that federal assistance is key for a just and sustainable transition in the wake of the declining coal economy.”

Several residents of Wise County were present at the meeting and spoke in support of the resolution. In their remarks, one supporter cited family members who have recently been laid off of mining jobs who would benefit from the passage of the POWER+ Plan. Others expressed their hopes of developing more of a tourism-based economy in the region through the funding that would go to the Appalachian Regional Commission. And one speaker underscored the need to support retired miners through the provision to ensure the solvency of the UMWA health and pension plan within the Power+ Plan.

In response to the comments from the citizens in attendance, board member Ron Shortt remarked “We’re behind you 100% on this. We realize how important it is to Southwest Virginia and Wise County.”

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