Appalachian School of Law Completes Collaborative Study of GOB Piles in Southwest Virginia

A team of students and professors at the Natural Resources Law Center at Appalachian School of Law (“ASL”) in Grundy recently completed a comprehensive and collaborative research project with EConsult Solutions, Inc (“ESI”) on “GOB Piles”.  The study examines the economic impact and environmental implications of Garbage of Bituminous piles, commonly known as “GOB,” in southwest Virginia.  ASL provided legal and policy research, while ESI provided economic data analysis for the project.  The study was funded in part by a grant from Dominion Energy.

“GOB Piles” – primarily scattered across Appalachia, including Southwest Virginia – are the result of unwanted coal left in coalfields by mining operations before environmental regulations were enacted to prevent such practices.  The ASL-ESI report concluded:  “These legacy piles create a range of environmental and safety hazards and discourage economic activity in the southwest region. GOB piles degrade Virginia’s waterways through Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) and the leaching of other pollutants. The piles are also often unstable, creating a public safety hazard, and are at risk of catching fire, leading to dangerous and uncontrolled burning. These challenges complicate economic revitalization efforts in an area that lags the state’s economic and demographic trends.”

The researchers considered the location and impact of waste coal sites and concluded that a “programmatic effort should be undertaken to remediate the GOB piles in Southwest Virginia.” The study estimated that remediation would result in approximately $72 million in economic benefits to the public over a 20-year program. A variety of remediation methods were examined, including treating the GOB “in place” to lessen its harmful impacts; removing GOB piles to lined landfills or active mining sites; and re-mining the GOB piles to extract waste coal that could be combusted for electricity at Dominion’s Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, then cleaning up what is left at the site. 

The ASL-ESI research team was able to identify the logistical, environmental and legal considerations that should inform decisions as to how to prioritize sites for remediation and which remediation method to utilize.  As importantly, the study examined a host of public funding opportunities to support remediation efforts, most notably $11.3 billion recently allocated under the Infrastructure Bill to clean up mine sites and improve water quality. The study recommended that Virginia aggressively pursue and/or support efforts to pursue these funding opportunities, prioritize GOB pile remediation among infrastructure spending, and assure that Virginia has capacity to support a programmatic remediation effort. Such efforts would advance Virginia’s recent and explicit commitment to pursue environmental justice, as many of the lower income communities in Southwest Virginia continue to be disproportionately impacted by the region’s coal mining legacy.

Check out this video to learn more!

Read the study here!

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Posted January 19th 2022 Posted by Mark Kelsey