Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages fell to fresh record lows this week, a trend that has helped the housing market start to recover this year.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says that the average rate on the 30-year loan dipped to 3.34 percent, the lowest on records dating back to 1971. That's down from 3.40 percent last week and the previous record low of 3.36 percent reached last month.
The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage also dropped to 2.65 percent. That's down from 2.69 percent last week and also a new record.
Bankrupt Patriot Coal Corp. agreed Thursday to become the first U.S. coal operator to phase out and eventually stop all large-scale mountaintop removal mining in central Appalachia under an agreement reached with three environmental groups that sued over pollution from several West Virginia operations.
St. Louis-based Patriot said the proposed agreement allows it to postpone as much as $27 million in expenses into 2014 and beyond, improving its liquidity and the likelihood it can successfully emerge from Chapter 11 protection as a viable business.
Mountaintop removal is a highly efficient but particularly destructive form of strip mining unique to West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Coal companies blast apart mountain ridge tops to expose multiple coal seams. The resulting rock and debris is dumped in streams, creating so-called valley fills.