Another day, another pollution suit

THREE environmental groups have filed a lawsuit in southern West Virginia against the owner of a now-reclaimed minesite claiming the property’s discharge is still polluting local waters.
Another day, another pollution suit Another day, another pollution suit Another day, another pollution suit Another day, another pollution suit Another day, another pollution suit


Donna Schmidt

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Sierra Club filed documents in the US District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Huntington against Boone East Development, which controls the former Cannelton Industries’ Bullpush Mountain mine.

The mine was the first mountaintop removal operation in the state when it opened in 1970.

The groups claim the mine – closed and reclaimed in 2008 following a 2005 permit transfer of the 2010-acre site to Jacks Branch Coal – is still spilling mine water with high levels of selenium and other toxic pollutants into Smithers Creek near Cannelton in the Fayette and Kanawha counties.

The plaintiffs are seeking $US37,500 a day for every violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

They also asked for Boone Development East to determine damage and rectify the contamination issues.

“It’s past time for all involved to recognize that ‘reclamation’ means more than just putting the land back in some stable and usable fashion,” West Virginia Highlands Conservancy mining committee chair Cindy Rank said.

“Assuring that reclaimed minesites don't pollute our water resources continues to be a responsibility of the landowner – whether that be the coal company that mined in the first place or whoever maintains ownership after the mining is done.”

The trio said they alerted the US Environmental Protection Agency as well as the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection of the violations earlier this year, as well as their intent to sue but claim no regulatory action was taken.

“This decades-old valley fill on a mountaintop removal minesite, which has undergone so-called reclamation, is still polluting the streams,” Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition project coordinator Vivian Stockman said.

“Coal companies and those who lease them land just don’t care about the long-term damage mountaintop removal inflicts … it would seem the DEP doesn’t care either, as the agency blithely allows the violations to continue.”

A BED spokesperson could not be located for comment by press time.

The legal fight is the latest in a string of filings initiated by the environmental groups.

In March they sued Elk Run Coal and Alex Energy – both former Massey Energy complexes now owned by Alpha Natural Resources – alleging the operations contaminated the water of the Laurel Creek and Twentymile Creek watersheds in southern West Virginia with sulfates and other toxic dissolved liquids.

The groups cited EPA data that estimated nine of 10 streams downstream from valley fills associated with coal mines were biologically impaired.

However, they said neither West Virginia nor the EPA required clean-up or compliance.

The environmentalists’ counsel in both cases includes Public Justice’s Jim Hecker and Appalachian Mountain Advocate representatives Joe Lovett and Derek Teaney.

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