Enviro groups work out legal deal with National Coal

The Sierra Club said June 26 that it and other environmental groups have reached an agreement with National Coal LLC that severely restricts surface mining in Tennessee.

The club, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), Tennessee Clean Water Network and National Coal reached an agreement in pending litigation surrounding Clean Water Act (CWA) violations at three sites owned by the company – the Zeb Mountain Mine (also known as Mine 7), Mine 14 and the Jordan Ridge Refuse Disposal Area – as well as challenges to the CWA discharge permit for the Zeb Mine.

“This settlement will effectively end National Coal’s participation in surface coal mining in Appalachia,” the club said. “The major points in the agreement require National Coal to stop mining at Zeb and Mine 14 within the next 90 days, to refrain from seeking new mining permits for surface mines, to come into compliance with its permit limits, to pay penalties for its past permit violations, and to modify its permit for the Zeb Mine to include selenium limits on those discharges that do not already have them. In exchange, the groups have agreed to dismiss their Clean Water Act enforcement suits and their administrative permit challenge, and to not pursue claims against the company based on violations of the Endangered Species Act at the Zeb Mine.”

“National Coal’s commitment to stop surface coal mining, like Patriot Coal before them, provides still more confirmation that mountaintop removal mining is not in the best interest of Appalachian communities and is no longer economically viable,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “This settlement is another step on the path towards ending years of destruction on our mountaintops, mining pollution in our waterways and injustice for the people of Appalachia.”

The reference to Patriot Coal is to a deal that coal company reached last year with environmental groups to severely restrict its surface mining in southern West Virginia.

At Jordan Ridge, the groups argued that National Coal has violated the CWA due to its discharges of high levels of mining pollution, including selenium, into nearby waterways. The groups argued that National Coal was violating the CWA at Zeb Mountain – the largest surface coal mine in Tennessee – and Mine 14 by exceeding the allowable limits for the discharge of certain forms of mining pollution.

National Coal will pay penalties of $60,000 to resolve those violations, with the vast majority of those funds going to the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation to fund land acquisition and conservation in the region, the club said. National Coal will also agree to pay higher “stipulated” penalties if it violates its permit limits in the future.

A key provision of the settlement is the implementation of selenium limits at Zeb Mountain, the club added. Selenium, a toxic element that causes reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life, is discharged from many surface coal-mining operations across Appalachia. Regulators in Tennessee have been slow to implement limits on selenium, and this settlement represents a key step in the reduction of this toxic pollutant in Tennessee waterways, the club added. 

This agreement was filed June 25 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville. The National Coal contact as listed in the decree is Stephen Ball, Vice President of Operations, out of Roanoke, Va.

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.