Enviro groups settle water lawsuits with Alpha, CONSOL

Citizen and environmental groups have reached three separate settlement agreements with coal producers Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR) and CONSOL Energy (NYSE: CNX) requiring the companies to deal selenium pollution into streams from multiple mountaintop removal mines and coal mining facilities in West Virginia.

The Sierra Club said on Dec. 19 that the three agreements require that the companies install and operate selenium treatment protections at nine mining complexes, and impose monetary penalties on the companies for their failure to comply with federal environmental laws.

The agreements resolve claims from five separate legal actions in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia brought by Coal River Mountain Watch, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Sierra Club, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

“Selenium from these companies’ mines pollutes our steams, kills off fish and other aquatic life, and wipes away our Appalachian heritage. These agreements will help stop further pollution, and for that we can be thankful,” said Bill Price, a West Virginia organizer with the Sierra Club. “Unfortunately, the burden of holding these companies accountable continues to fall on citizen groups. The state of West Virginia has failed, once again, to protect our waterways.”

“Once again, citizens’ groups have had to step up where our West Virginia Dept. of Environmental Protection is lying down on the job. Our communities and health suffer as long as the policy is to let mountaintop removers pollute at will” said Vernon Haltom, Executive Director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “All new permitting should be stopped until more scientific studies can be conducted to determine why people near mountaintop removal sites have so many health impacts, whether it be from water pollution or blasting dust.”

The settlements will be lodged with the court for 45 days pending review by the U.S. Department of Justice. The citizen groups were represented in this matter by attorneys with Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

Alpha on Dec. 19 also announced the settlement of three selenium discharge suits. Selenium is a naturally occurring element that can be released into streams as a byproduct of some common earth moving activities, including surface mining. The lawsuits involved mining permits at certain Aracoma, Bandmill, Highland, Kanawha Energy, Marfork, Alex Energy and Independence mines. 

As part of the settlement, the Alpha-affiliated mining operations will pay a civil penalty of $350,000. The agreed upon compliance dates are largely consistent with existing permits or permit renewal proposals for these mining operations, Alpha noted. By resolving all pending Clean Water Act lawsuits, these mining operations are able to move forward with implementing proven technology in their existing compliance plans rather than focusing on litigation.

CONSOL Energy didn’t put out its own statement on the settlement.

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.