The Sierra Club, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition on June 27 filed another action against a coal mining company for alleged pollution that has biologically impaired two headwater streams in West Virginia.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, alleges that mine runoff from mines operated by Fola Coal Co. LLC has contaminated the water in two Leatherwood Creek tributaries—Road Fork and Cogar Hollow—with sulfate and other dissolved solids that are harmful to aquatic life. Fola Coal is a unit of CONSOL Energy (NYSE: CNX).
These claims are based on the same legal theory that the two groups used to obtain a 2012 settlement against Fola, requiring it to clean up another biologically-impaired tributary—Boardtree Branch—in the Twentymile Creek watershed. In both cases, the groups contend that the mining companies have violated West Virginia’s “narrative” water quality standards, which set general criteria for water quality, rather than “numeric” water quality standards, which set limits on the concentration of specific pollutants in water.
This new lawsuit is in addition to three existing lawsuits against Alex Energy, Elk Run Coal Co. and Fola that allege that contamined mine runoff has contributed to biological impairment of other streams in West Virginia. So far, the groups have filed lawsuits targeting seven streams that they say are biologically impaired by coal mining operations—Boardtree Branch, Mudlick Fork, Robinson Fork, Stillhouse Branch, Spruce Run, Road Fork, and Cogar Hollow. The same groups have also recently notified Fola of their intent to sue the company for alleged biological impairment of another tributary of Leatherwood Creek called Right Fork.
“Amazingly, at the same time data shows more and more streams harmed by coal mining, WVDEP is interpreting a 2012 state statute so coal companies will no longer be responsible for preventing stream impairment,” said Jim Sconyers, Chapter Chair of the West Virginia Sierra Club.
Alex Energy and Elk Run Coal are subsidiaries that Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR) picked up in its June 2011 buy of Massey Energy.