Patriot Coal’s Hobet 21 Mine Wiping Out W.Va’s Mud River Watershed

Groups File to Hold Company Accountable for Widespread, Destructive Pollution

Adam Beitman, Sierra Club, (202) 670-5585,

Dianne Bady, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, (304) 522-0246,
Cindy Rank, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, (304) 924-5802,

BOONE COUNTY, WV – Local citizen and clean water groups filed suit today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia over widespread water pollution from Patriot Coal Corporation’s sprawling Hobet 21 coal mine in Boone County, WV. Hobet 21 is part of the Hobet Mining Complex in Boone County, West Virginia, which covers 6,268 acres in and around the upper Mud River watershed, and is one of the largest surface mines in Appalachia.

The groups found that the Hobet 21 mine is generating pollution on a scale more widespread and destructive than at virtually any other mine in Appalachia. In fact, the pollution from more than twenty valley fills at the site has caused almost the entire Mud River watershed to become “biologically impaired,” meaning that the pollution is killing off aquatic life, to the point where these streams are no longer healthy ecosystems.

“Mountaintop removal coal mining is simply unsustainable,” said Liz Wiles, Chair of the West Virginia Sierra Club. “Its destructive cost to community health and the future of our region is simply unavoidable. And coal companies like Patriot can’t hide from their responsibility any longer.”

Recent analyses show that about 72 percent of the coal from West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia is mined at a loss, and companies are attempting to limit their financial losses by continuing to destroy mountains despite a dramatic and increasing market glut. The overall decline of Appalachian coal is a result of a revolution in the energy sector that includes rapidly falling prices for other energy sources, overwhelming grassroots public demand for clean energy, and a dubious decision by the coal industry to pull out of the region and invest in non-union mines in other parts of the country.

Wiles concluded, “The days of the coal industry’s abuse and abandonment of our state’s land and labor are numbered. We call for significant investments in West Virginia’s hard-working families and communities by the public and private sector, to spur economic diversification in areas that have historically looked to coal to support their livelihoods.”

“State and federal governments have allowed severe water contamination to continue at Patriot’s Hobet mines for many years, in violation of the Clean Water Act’s protections. This makes new clean economic development difficult. Now it is critical that government take responsibility for improving the economic damage they have allowed in mountaintop removal areas, as well as the damage to the environment,” said Dianne Bady of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “Patriot Coal is flagrantly violating the terms and protections that are in its own permits, and this has created a serious water quality problem over a significant area. Treating this pollution will be challenging, and should be a reminder that the coal industry has long avoided paying for the true cost of its mining operations. Instead, much of that cost has been offloaded onto West Virginia’s water, its wildlife and its citizens.”

As mines across the region continue to face requirements to address their pollution, the growing trend is clear: mining company irresponsibility is a key driver of the economic and environmental decline of the region, and cleaning up this pollution is critical to the region’s recovery. Since Hobet began mountaintop removal mining in the Mud River watershed in the 1980s, the health of local streams and waterways has declined dramatically. Data from the period before mining demonstrates that these streams once enjoyed low levels of water pollution and healthy local wildlife communities.

“There are ways of treating this pollution, and we hope Patriot decides that the future of our streams, wildlife, and Appalachian heritage are worth what it takes to protect them,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

The basis for Tuesday’s suit is a section of the mine’s pollution permit which prohibits dumping into local waters “[m]aterials in concentrations which are harmful, hazardous or toxic to man, animal, or aquatic life,” or that cause “significant adverse impacts to the chemical, physical, hydrologic, or biological components of aquatic ecosystems.”

The groups bringing the lawsuit are Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and the Sierra Club, and are represented by their attorneys with Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

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