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Patriot to End Mountaintop Removal, Sierra Club Says

Patriot Coal Corp., the U.S. mining company that filed for bankruptcy in July, agreed to end mountaintop removal in Appalachia as part of an accord with environmental groups, the Sierra Club said.

The company will idle a dragline immediately at its Catenary mining complex in West Virginia following the accord, the Sierra Club said today in a statement on its website. The St. Louis-based company will also halt a dragline at its Hobet unit by the end of 2015, according to a court document posted on the Sierra Club website.

Aaron Palash, a spokesman for Patriot who works at public-relations firm Joele Frank Wilkinson Brimmer & Katcher in New York, declined to comment about the settlement.

The Sierra Club is among environmental groups who have criticized mountaintop removal -- in which the peaks are stripped of vegetation and soil to allow so-called surface mining -- for polluting air and water and sickening local residents.

Patriot also reached agreement with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, according to the Sierra Club.

Under the terms of the accord, the company won’t open any new surface mines or apply for more “large-scale” surface-mining permits, the Sierra Club said. Patriot also will withdraw two applications for permits to dump waste from mountaintop mines into the valleys below, the group said.

‘Historic Moment’

In return for eventually ending mountaintop removal, the company gets more time to install equipment at some of its mines to treat selenium, a potentially polluting byproduct of coal production, according to the group.

Patriot agreed to reduce annual coal production from surface mining to 3 million tons by 2018, from 6.5 million in 2014, according to the court document. Patriot sold 31.1 million tons of coal in 2011, according to company filings. It has mines in Appalachia, and in Kentucky in the so-called Illinois Basin coal-producing region.

“This is an historic moment for people hardest-hit by mountaintop removal,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in the statement. “Tens of thousands of people have worked tirelessly to put an end to this destructive process, and today’s agreement is a major step towards ending this abhorrent form of mining.”

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