Sierra Club says deal reached with Pocahontas Land over coal lawsuit

The Sierra Club said April 6 that coal landowner Pocahontas Land agreed in a legal settlement to apply for a Clean Water Act permit for ongoing pollution at the former Pounding Mill No. 1 and Surface Mine No. 8 sites in Mingo County, West Virginia.

When the mines were shut, all of the permits pertaining to mining were released, meaning that the landholding company no longer has to report its pollution, or has to make sure pollution is within permit limits. Pocahontas Land is a subsidiary of railroad owner Norfolk Southern Corp. (NYSE: NSC).

“This agreement is a critical first step in ensuring that all the pollution caused by years of coal mining is cleaned up. These old mining sites were leaching dangerous levels of selenium into the headwaters of the Tug Fork River. We are thrilled that this settlement with Pocahontas will lead to a new clean water permit for the sites,” said Liz Wiles, Chair of the West Virginia Sierra Club.

Despite the permit release, monitoring by citizen groups showed that the former mountaintop removal mines’ valley fills remain in place, and are still polluting local streams with the toxic pollutant selenium at levels that exceed federal and state water quality standards. The groups who brought the citizen enforcement suit in federal court and entered into this agreement include the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Sierra Club, and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

Under the terms of the agreement, Pocahontas must apply to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for Clean Water Act discharge permit authorization for its pollution. As part of its application, the company must report the results of selenium pollution monitoring twice monthly. 

This settlement is the latest in an ongoing effort by a broad coalition of local citizen groups to force the clean up of old mine sites in Appalachia. There are dozens more sites that are leaching dangerous chemicals into streams across the region, the Sierra Club said. The citizen groups involved in this litigation and settlement were 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.