Federal lawsuit filed over Patriot Coal mine in southern West Virginia

Local citizen and clean water groups filed suit on April 6 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia over alleged water pollution from Patriot Coal’s Hobet 21 surface coal mine in Boone County, W.Va.

The Sierra Club said in an April 6 statement that Hobet 21 is part of the Hobet Mining Complex in Boone County, which covers 6,268 acres in and around the upper Mud River watershed, and is one of the largest surface mines in Central Appalachia.

The groups claim that the Hobet 21 mine is generating pollution on a scale more widespread and destructive than at virtually any other mine in Appalachia. The said that the pollution from more than twenty valley fills at the site has caused almost the entire Mud River watershed to become “biologically impaired,” meaning that the pollution is killing off aquatic life, to the point where these streams are no longer healthy ecosystems.

“Mountaintop removal coal mining is simply unsustainable,” said Liz Wiles, Chair of the West Virginia Sierra Club. “Its destructive cost to community health and the future of our region is simply unavoidable. And coal companies like Patriot can’t hide from their responsibility any longer.”

“State and federal governments have allowed severe water contamination to continue at Patriot’s Hobet mines for many years, in violation of the Clean Water Act’s protections. This makes new clean economic development difficult. Now it is critical that government take responsibility for improving the economic damage they have allowed in mountaintop removal areas, as well as the damage to the environment,” said Dianne Bady of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “Patriot Coal is flagrantly violating the terms and protections that are in its own permits, and this has created a serious water quality problem over a significant area. Treating this pollution will be challenging, and should be a reminder that the coal industry has long avoided paying for the true cost of its mining operations. Instead, much of that cost has been offloaded onto West Virginia’s water, its wildlife and its citizens.”

The basis for the April 6 lawsuit is a section of the mine’s pollution permit which prohibits dumping into local waters “[m]aterials in concentrations which are harmful, hazardous or toxic to man, animal, or aquatic life,” or that cause “significant adverse impacts to the chemical, physical, hydrologic, or biological components of aquatic ecosystems.”

The groups bringing the lawsuit are the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and the Sierra Club, and they are represented by attorneys with Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

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.