Groups file suit over water complaints against Alpha Natural

A coalition of citizen and environmental groups took legal action to stop pollution from two coal mining facilities operated by Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR) subsidiaries Marfork Coal and Independence Coal in southern West Virginia, said the Sierra Club on May 9.

The groups said the Marfork’s Brushy Fork slurry impoundment and the Crescent No. 2 surface mine of Independence are both violating key protections in the Clean Water Act and surface mining laws. The groups bringing the suit – Coal River Mountain Watch, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Sierra Club – are trying to compel the companies to install protections that will limit selenium and other toxins. Notable is that Alpha acquired both of these subsidiaries in a June 2011 buy of Massey Energy.

“Brushy Fork has engendered fear and dread in citizens seemingly forever,” said Jim Sconyers, Chair of the West Virginia Sierra Club. “This legal action will dispel at least one component of that dread – the needless and unlawful pollution of streams that are a key part of citizen’s lives.” 

The Brushy Fork impoundment is the largest of its kind in West Virginia, the club said. The impoundment – which holds seven billion gallons of coal sludge and waste from nearby coal operations – is believed to be the largest earthen dam in the western hemisphere. Citizen groups, hydrologists and the United Mine Workers union have raised significant concerns over the dam’s size and structural integrity, the club said.

“Should the Brushy Fork dam fail, the results would be immediately catastrophic,” said Vivian Stockman, Project Coordinator at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “But the ongoing pollution violations from these sites are a slow-motion catastrophe for the health of nearby communities and for the health of our democracy. These companies should not be violating laws as a routine part of doing business, and the state regulators should not routinely let them get away with it.”

An Alpha official couldn’t be reached for comment May 9.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.