Coal giant Alpha Natural Resources has given the Nature Conservancy $25,000 to help it push for the cleanup of abandoned strip mines in Southwest Virginia's Clinch River Valley, the nonprofit group announced yesterday.

The group is undertaking the task of creating an inventory of the strip mines and setting cleanup priorities for them in partnership with the state Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.

Virginia Tech estimates there are 50,000 acres of abandoned strip mines to be cleaned up in Southwest Virginia. The federal government estimates that cleaning up the worst ones will cost more than $115 million. Before 1977, coal companies did not have to repair strip mines after removing the coal.

The Nature Conservancy has worked for years to clean up the watersheds of the Clinch, Powell and Holston rivers in Southwest Virginia. The rivers are home to more at-risk fish and mussel species than any other of the nation's rivers, according to the conservancy.

"In our own backyard is one of the most ecologically valuable regions in the world, and we all share a collective responsibility to care for it," Kevin Crutchfield, Alpha's president, said in a written statement. "This partnership will advance this effort tremendously and show that industry and a flourishing environment can co-exist in harmony."

Alpha is the largest U.S. supplier of metallurgical coal, and the company and its subsidiaries employ 3,800 people in 60 mines and 10 coal-preparation plants in four states.

Richmond Times-Dispatch - Wednesday, December 24, 2008

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