Enviro groups file suit against owners of reclaimed W.Va. coal mines

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Sierra Club filed litigation against three corporate owners of reclaimed mountaintop removal mining sites in West Virginia, the Sierra Club said May 29.

The groups claim that these sites, which still include valley fills, continue to discharge toxic pollutants – including selenium – and therefore violate the Clean Water Act.

The David L. Francis Trust owns property that contains portions of the reclaimed Sprouse Creek West Surface Mine. The Shepard Boone Coal Co. LLC owns property that contains portions of the reclaimed Colony Bay Surface Mine. And the Pocahontas Land affiliate of railroad Norfolk Southern owns properties that contain portions of the reclaimed Pounding Mill No. 1 Surface Mine and Surface Mine No. 8. All of these sites have had their permits released by regulators following reclamation under the Clean Water Act and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), but continue to discharge pollutants, the groups said.

“Water pollution from mountaintop removal mining doesn’t end after the blasting stops,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Even after the mining companies close up shop local waterways and communities are still being hurt by their destructive practices. We know states like West Virginia won’t act to stop this growing problem, and that’s why it’s time for the EPA to take substantial action to end water pollution from surface mines.”

“Preventing water pollution from any property is ultimately the responsibility of the land owner,” said Cindy Rank, Mining Committee Chair of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “When that pollution is from old mine sites – abandoned or reclaimed – the responsibility falls to the coal company that mined in the first place, or the state in its stead if the site is eligible for reclamation using forfeited bond money, or whoever maintains ownership after the mining is done.” 

The sites that are named in the lawsuits were selected based on a number of factors, including water samples from streams below the sites that show elevated levels of selenium, the continued presence of mining waste in valley fills, and the absence of any other mines or likely sources of selenium upstream of the sampling point.

This action was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, the venue for a number of mountaintop-removal lawsuits filed by environmental groups since the late 1990s.

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.