Federal Court Orders Coal Company to Pay $45 Million to Treat Toxic Selenium from West Virginia Coal Mines
September 1, 2010
In a hugely important judicial decision addressing selenium pollution from coal mines in Appalachia, a federal district court judge has ordered Patriot Coal to pay $45 million to treat the pollutant at two of its coal mines in West Virginia. On August 31, Judge Robert Chambers held Patriot Coal in contempt for failing to comply with the terms of an earlier court order, and ordered the company to immediately post a letter of credit for $45 million and come into compliance with the selenium limits in its permits within two and a half years. Earlier this month, Judge Chambers held a combined hearing on claims brought by Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy related to selenium discharges from both the Ruffner and Hobet 22 coal mines. Evidence presented at trial established that it will likely take the full two and a half years and $45 million to build a facility to treat selenium from three waste pipes at just one of the mines, the Ruffner surface mine in Logan County. Treatment at the Hobet 22 mine in Lincoln County is expected to cost at least an additional $15 million.
This ruling represents a monumental win for Sierra Club and its coalfield allies, who are engaged in several lawsuits challenging selenium discharge violations from coal mines. It sets important precedent for other coal companies by proving that it is possible to prevent their toxic mining waste from polluting nearby stream and communities.
The plaintiff groups are represented by Joe Lovett and Derek Teaney of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, and Jim Hecker at Public Justice.
June 24, 2010
On June 15, Sierra Club and its coalfield allies achieved an important legal victory when a federal court ruled that Patriot Coal’s Hobet 22 mountaintop removal coal mine in West Virginia has been releasing illegally high levels of toxic selenium into local waterways, in violation of both federal clean water and mining laws. Selenium is a toxic pollutant that poses a serious risk to wildlife and – at particularly high levels – to human health. Selenium is known to cause deformities and reproductive failure in fish, and can cause health problems in humans including nail and hair loss, neurologic problems, and kidney and liver damage.
Toxic selenium pollution from mines is a widespread problem; mountaintop removal coal mines throughout Appalachia are discharging selenium in excess of their permit effluent limits. Sierra Club and its allies are aggressively challenging these violations in a number of lawsuits. These suits have the potential to stop many mines throughout the region, as the cost of the treatment technology capable of reducing selenium to acceptable levels is so high it may make mining in selenium-bearing seams prohibitively expensive.
Details and Documents:
Court Orders Patriot Coal to Pay $45 Million to Treat Toxic Selenium from West Virginia Coal Mines, Holds Company in Contempt
September 1, 2010, Sierra Club Press Release
Judge Rules Against Hobet Mountaintop Removal Mine
June 15, 2010, Sierra Club Press Release
Judge orders pricey selenium cleanup at two coal mines
Environmental groups hail selenium ruling as 'game changer'
September 1, 2010 by Renee Schoof, McClatchy Washington Bureau
Patriot Coal ordered to clean up selenium
September 1, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr., The Charleston Gazette
September 1, 2010, St. Louis Business Journal
Judge blasts Hobet, DEP for selenium stonewalling
June 14, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr., The Charleston Gazette
See other "Stopping Mountaintop Removal and Other Destructive Mining" cases.