Alpha unit loses court ruling in W.Va. selenium case

A federal judge on April 24 found against a unit of Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR) in a May 2012 lawsuit brought by Coal River Mountain Watch about selenium runoff from a coal mine waste impoundment site.

On April 22, a trial on liability issues only was held in this case at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia between plaintiff Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW) and defendant Marfork Coal.

Coal River Mountain Watch alleges that the defendant violated federal Clean Water Act and surface mining statutes by discharging excessive amounts of selenium into the waters of West Virginia. The dispute comes down to whether plaintiff’s post-complaint water sampling from October 2012 and December 2012 proves a violation by Marfork Coal of West Virginia’s water quality standards by showing that defendant exceeded the standards’ chronic selenium limitation of 5 parts per billion (ppb).

In his April 24 ruling, Judge Robert Chambers found that both plaintiff’s sampling from October 2012 and its sampling from December 2012 prove violations by defendant of West Virginia’s water quality standards—and, thus, defendant’s permits—by exceeding the standards’ chronic selenium limitation of 5 ppb.

Marfork Coal owns and operates the Brushy Fork Slurry Impoundment in Raleigh County, W.Va. The impoundment’s Outfall 001 discharges downhill, via a spillway, directly into what remains of the stream known as Brushy Fork, which at this point is little more than a pond. Brushy Fork is comprised of the water between the end of the spillway and several culverts approximately 20 to 30 feet away. The culverts carry water from Little Marsh Fork, a stream which continues to flow downstream through the culverts. Also at the culverts, the water from Brushy Fork joins with the water in Little Marsh Fork. The sole source of the water in Brushy Fork is the discharge from Outfall 001.

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.