Sierra Club Declares Victory in Fight to Stop Pollution from Mountaintop Removal Mine
September 21, 2010
On September 15, Sierra Club and the Ansted Historic Preservation Council declared victory after reaching a settlement agreement with Powellton Coal Company that will protect West Virginia waterways and communities from coal mining pollution. The settlement concludes almost two years of litigation. Sierra Club and Ansted Historic Preservation Council originally filed a lawsuit against Powellton over illegal pollution discharges at its Bridge Fork mountaintop removal coal mining complex on Gauley Mountain in Fayette County. The suit claimed that Powellton was dumping aluminum, iron, manganese, and other pollutants into tributaries of the Gauley River – a world-class whitewater river and major tourist destination - at levels well in excess of permit limits. Earlier this year, a federal district court judge agreed with the groups and ruled that the company had repeatedly violated the law. The parties have now reached agreement on the actions that Powellton must take to stop polluting, and the penalties the company will pay for past violations.
Powellton has agreed to undertake an aluminum treatment action plan which will address the sources of aluminum and develop controls to stop this pollution. Under the agreement, Powellton must also identify additional methods for controlling iron, manganese, and other pollutants. In order to ensure that Powellton takes immediate action to stop polluting, the settlement establishes monetary penalties for future violations over the next three years.
In addition, Powellton will immediately pay over $1.2 million to help establish a Land Use and Sustainable Development Clinic at the West Virginia University College of Law. The clinic will provide services to local communities aimed at protecting and enhancing the Gauley and New River watersheds. These services will include helping local land trusts to acquire conservation easements, developing land use plans, and working to address residential wastewater problems, among other strategies. The majority of any future penalties for additional violations will also be directed to the clinic.
February 5, 2010
Sierra Club and its coal-field allies celebrated a monumental win on February 3, when a federal district court judge in West Virginia ruled that Powellton Coal Company repeatedly violated the law by polluting the state’s waterways with discharges from its surface mines. The judge then ordered more proceedings to investigate scores of additional violations at Powellton’s Bridge Fork mountaintop removal coal mining complex in Fayette County. In reaching his decision, the judge found that “modification orders” the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection had attempted to use to insulate the coal company from clean water regulations were invalid.
Sierra Club and the Ansted Historic Preservation Council initially challenged the Bridge Fork mountaintop removal coal mining complex last year, raising serious concerns about the pollution from the mine’s valley fills and its impact on historic sites, local communities and tourist attractions in the area. Pollution from the Bridge Fork mining complex has continually exceeded legal limits, leading to high levels of toxic aluminum, manganese and other pollution in nearby waterways. The waterways affected by the pollution discharged from the Bridge Fork complex include world class whitewater rivers and trout streams.
This victory will have far-reaching implications in West Virginia, as coal mining companies can no longer hide behind extremely lenient modification orders and compliance schedules issued by state regulators.
August 15, 2009
Sierra Club and Ansted Historical Preservation Association achieved a big win for West Virginia’s waterways when, on June 30, 2009, the two groups secured an order from the West Virginia Surface Mine Board prohibiting Powellton from removing any additional coal at the Bridge Fork West mountaintop removal mine on Gauley Mountain. Under the order, Powellton must demonstrate full compliance with environmental laws before it can mine any more coal. Unfortunately, the modified permit still allows Powellton to engage in other activities at the mine site, including hauling coal mined from an adjacent site, in direct violation of the prohibition against renewing permits with ongoing permit violations. Sierra Club and its ally have asked the West Virginia state court to strike down the entire permit; that litigation is ongoing.
April 22, 2009
Sierra Club and the Ansted Historic Preservation Council took a major step to protect West Virginian waterways when, on April 16, 2009, the groups appealed a renewed surface mining permit for the Bridge Fork West Surface Mine in Fayette County, West Virginia. The 463.8-acre mine site is operated by Powellton Coal Company, a subsidiary of Fola Coal Company and Consol Energy, and is located between the New and Gauley rivers. The Gauley River has more than 100 major rapids and a 650-foot vertical drop, and is a beloved destination for whitewater enthusiasts from around the world.
In their appeal, Sierra Club and the Ansted Historic Preservation Council argue that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) violated the law by renewing the permit. Under the West Virginia Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act, the DEP may not renew a permit when the terms of that permit are currently being violated. At the time that the permit was renewed, Powellton Coal had two active “Notices of Violation” unremediated at its Bridge Fork West mine. Powellton Coal also continues to violate the federal Clean Water Act and the West Virginia Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act at the Bridge Fork West mine by dumping illegal levels of toxic aluminum, iron and suspended solids into Rich Creek, a trout stream that feeds into the Gauley.
Sierra Club and the Ansted Historic Preservation Council are not alone in their opposition; more than 3,000 public comments came in to the DEP opposing the surface mining permit before it was renewed on March 18. The National Park Service also expressed its opposition to the permit in January of 2009.
Details and Documents:
Groups Declare Victory for Clean Water as Settlement Will Stop Pollution from WV Mountaintop Removal Coal Mine
September 16, 2010, Sierra Club Press Release
Judge Rules Mountaintop Removal Coal Mines Polluting West Virginia Waterways, Finds State Efforts to Protect the Mines Invalid
February 4, 2010, Sierra Club Press Release
Memorandum Opinion and Order
February 3, 2010, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia
Threats to Communities, Whitewater River Force WV Mining Permit Appeal
April 16, 2009, Sierra Club Press Release
Sierra Club and Ansted Historic Preservation Council Notice of Appeal
April 16, 2009, Before the West Virginia Surface Mine Board
New ruling: WVDEP deals don’t insulate coal companies
February 4, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr., The Charleston Gazette
Two groups challenge Consol permit for W. Va. mine
April 17, 2009, Charleston Daily Mail
Groups continue to fight Bridge Fork mine permit
April 16, 2009, by Steve keenan, The Register-Herald
W.Va. residents appeal renewal of Fayette mining permit
April 16, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr., The Charleston Gazette
See other "Stopping Mountaintop Removal and Other Destructive Mining" cases.