BIG STONE GAP, VA – Late last week the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) upheld its February decision to deny the Ison Rock Ridge Surface mine permit after an appeal by A&G, the coal company applying for the permit. Local residents and environmental groups are applauding the decision, which will protect the health of local residents and prevent the needless destruction of Ison Rock Ridge. The Â Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) and Sierra Club opposed the appeal, arguing that A&G had failed to timely pursue the application as required by state law.
â€œI am so pleased to finally see the DMME stand up for the people they are supposed to represent,â€ said Sam Broach, president of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS). â€œThe people living in the areas affected by surface mining can sleep well tonight knowing that the mountains above them wonâ€™t be blown up, and the air they breathe will be a little bit cleaner. This courageous decision will save our waterways, too. Kudos, and thanks, to the DMME for making the right call.â€
The permit application was considered technically complete by the Department of Mines Minerals and Energy in May of 2010, but has been held up due to concerns that the mine will not adhere to water quality standards in nearby Callahan Creek. Â Further, Southern Coal, which owns A & G, was required to resolve at least four outstanding mine permit violations in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, before the permit could be issued. Todayâ€™s decision from the DMME again denies A&Gâ€™s application due to the companyâ€™s failure to take the necessary steps to pursue the application for at least two years.
Local resident Adam Hooper expressed his appreciation for todayâ€™s decision, saying â€œI grew up in the mountains around Inman. This decision to finally end this permit application is the best decision for our community, and the best news the people in Appalachia have had in a long time. No one should be asked to sacrifice their health, water quality, and the beauty of their surroundings for a handful of temporary jobs. Itâ€™s now time to start rebuilding our economy around our stateâ€™s natural beauty in a way that is both useful and sustainable.â€
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 town of Appalachia like a black cloud. The four valley fills proposed for the operation threatened to bury headwater streams and increase concentrations of toxic pollutants in streams like Callahan Creek, which is already legally recognized as impaired. Such pollution is especially dangerous for women and young children, and 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.
â€œThis 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,â€ said Marley Green, organizer with the Sierra Club. â€œCoal executives already realize that Appalachian coal production is going down, and markets are drying up. Surface mines like those operated by A&G have already taken too high a toll. Itâ€™s time our leaders woke up to whatâ€™s happening, and get behind efforts to build a sustainable economy in the coalfields. Until that day, community activists will stand up to protect the mountains, our homes, and our lives.â€