CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A group of West Virginia environmental advocacy groups, this week, has sent letters to the parent companies of 15 coal facilities in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, threatening to sue them over what the groups call “egregious violations” of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).
The facilities named include underground and surface mines, preparation plants, processing facilities, a power plant and a chloride plant.
The coalition includes the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Appalachian Voices, and the Sierra Club.
The Harrison County Coal Mine(formerly known as Robinson Run), operated by Murray Energy, is discharging 220 times its permitted limit of aluminum into tributaries of the West Fork and Ohio rivers, the groups said.
The Red Fox Mine in McDowell County, is discharging twice as much selenium and 10 times as much aluminum as it is permitted into the Tug Fork River, according to the groups. That mine is owned by a subsidiary of the Justice Group, which is controlled by the family of West Virginia Governor Jim Justice.
The data was provided to state and federal regulators by the facilities themselves, the groups said. The notice of intent to sue letters were also sent to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
If in 60 days the companies are not in compliance with the CWA and SMCRA, the coalition will seek relief in federal court to hold the companies accountable for their violations and to clean up the streams that receive the pollution, according to a news release.
The companies and facilities mentioned in the letters are:
Marshall County Mine/ Conner Run Impoundment
Arkwright Mine #1(Monongalia County)
Marion County Mine(Loveridge)
Harrison County Mine(Robinson Run)
SOUTHEASTERN LAND, LLC:
Ike Fork #2 Surface Mine
Taywood West Surface Mine(Mingo County)
Peg Fork Surface Mine(Mingo County)
Peachorchard Surface Mine No. 5(Mingo County)
LEXINGTON COAL CO.:
Low Gap Surface Mine #2
No. 10 Mine
BLUESTONE COAL/ JUSTICE GROUP:
Red Fox Surface Mine(McDowell County)
Grant Town Power Plant(Marion County)
Dana Prime #1 Deep Mine(Monongalia County)
BLACK CASTLE MINING COMPANY:
Laxare East Surface Mine(Boone County)
EAGLE NATRIUM LLC:
Eagle Natrium(Wetzel County)
Representatives from the groups issued statements:
“These notice letters make clear that every stage of the coal cycle is irredeemably dirty,” said Peter Morgan, Senior Attorney for the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program. “Worse, the notice letters also make clear that federal and state regulators continue to look the other way while communities suffer.”
“Citizen suits like these are necessary to enforce the law and make companies internalize the costs of non-compliance that they inflict on their neighbors and the environment,” said Jim Hecker, Environmental Enforcement Director of Public Justice.
West Virginia Highlands Conservancy:
“After unsuccessfully objecting to the original permitting of these and similar mines, neighbors and citizens groups are left to seek recourse through legal remedies to achieve necessary clean-up of polluting discharges,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “We are saddened by the necessity, but grateful for the ability to seek accountability through the citizen suit provisions of the federal Clean Water and Surface Mining Control Acts and for attorneys who are willing to assist us.”
“Illegal pollution harms not only the rivers and streams that receive the pollution, but also the communities living nearby,” said Erin Savage, Central Appalachian Program Manager for Appalachian Voices. “A clean, healthy environment is an integral part of diversifying West Virginia’s economy beyond a reliance on fossil fuel extraction.”
West Virginia Rivers Coalition:
“This chronic and widespread problem of unfettered illegal activity has already stacked up too much harm to our waters,” said Angie Rosser, Executive Director for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “We simply can’t stand by and watch coal companies get a free pass while our streams, and the residents that depend on them, pay the price. Something has to change.”
The groups are represented by attorneys with Appalachian Mountain Advocates and Public Justice.