Federal Judge Rules Coal Mine Operators Violating Clean Water and Mining Laws
April 1, 2011
On March 31, Sierra Club and its coalfield allies secured another important victory for West Virginia’s communities and waterways, when a federal judge ruled that several of Massey Energy and Arch Coal’s mines are operating in violation of clean water and mining laws. Judge Robert Chambers with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia ruled that the companies’ coal mines have been releasing illegally high levels of toxic selenium into local waterways, in violation of the Clean Water Act and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
The pollution from mines operated by Massey’s subsidiaries Independence Coal Company and Jacks Branch Coal Company, as well as from mines operated by Arch’s subsidiaries Coal-Mac, Inc. and Mingo Logan Coal Company, represents just one part of a pattern of toxic selenium pollution from surface mines across Appalachia. This case relates to several other recent lawsuits filed by Sierra Club and its allies against other mine operators, including Maple Coal Company and Patriot Coal, that seek to hold those companies accountable for their selenium discharge violations. In September of last year, a federal judge in West Virginia ordered Patriot Coal to treat the selenium pollution at just one of its coal mines at an estimated cost of $45 million. With respect to Massey Energy and Arch Coal, additional proceedings will be required to determine the actions the companies must take to prevent future violations, and to assess penalties.
Selenium severely harms fish and other water life, causing reproductive failure, birth defects and damage to gills and internal organs. Selenium in some West Virginia streams has been linked to fish deformities, producing fish with two eyes on one side of their heads. At very high levels, selenium can be toxic to people, causing hair and fingernail loss, kidney and liver damage, and damage to the nervous and circulatory systems.
Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and Coal River Mountain Watch are represented by Joe Lovett and Derek Teaney of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment.
Currently, the environmental groups are enforcing other Clean Water Act violations against Massey and its subsidiaries. To read more, click here!
Details and Documents:
Judge Finds Massey Energy and Arch Coal Violating Clean Water Act at Multiple West Virginia Coal Mines
April 1, 2011, Sierra Club et al. Press Release
Judge Robert Chambers' Memorandum Opinion & Order
March 31, 2011, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia
Massey, Arch must pay selenium penalties, Chambers rules
April 8, 2011 by Steve Korris, Cabell Bureau
See other "Stopping Mountaintop Removal and Other Destructive Mining" cases.