Setback for Efforts to Stop Water Pollution from Coal Mines in Reclamation


Pablo Willis,

Wise, VA - The environment and the communities who live near coal strip mines in Virginia suffered a major setback today. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a District Court decision allowing a coal mine to continue discharging high levels of harmful pollution into surrounding communities’ streams and rivers.  

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Appalachian Voices, and the Sierra Club had brought suit to address unchecked water pollution from Red River Coal Company’s North Fox Gap Surface Mine in Wise County. The Fourth Circuit held that the company could not be held independently liable under the Surface Mining Act if state regulators failed to address the pollution under the Clean Water Act.

The groups were represented by attorneys with Sierra Club and with Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

In response, the groups released the following statements:

“It should be common sense, but a former coal mine in reclamation should not have a license to pollute the surrounding community’s rivers, streams, and drinking water supply. The purity of our water should never be taken for granted and we’re disappointed that the state regulators can continue to turn a blind eye to this pollution source,” said Gabby Gillespie, Sierra Club Appalachia. “Our groups will continue to look for ways to hold coal mine owners accountable for the pollution their mines create. We will be actively exploring how to remedy this setback and protect important communities from this decision in Virginia and the rest of Appalachia.” 

"Central Appalachian communities are fighting to redefine their future in a time of immense economic uncertainty. Ensuring that surface mines are properly reclaimed is a critical part of that fight. Allowing a coal company to pollute public water jeopardizes community health and well-being." -- Erin Savage, Senior Program Manager, Appalachian Voices.

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit