The Sierra Club said Oct. 28 that it, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and Appalachian Voices have filed a consent decree resolving a 2012 Clean Water Act enforcement suit against A&G Coal Corp., owned by coal operator Jim Justice, and found responsible for selenium pollution from its Kelly Branch Surface Mine in Wise County, Virginia, in 2014.
As part of the settlement, the company must pay more than $300,000 in penalties and fees, the bulk of which will go toward three supplemental environmental projects that will clean up legacy coal sites in southwest Virginia, the club said. An earlier court order in the litigation required the company to secure enforceable permit limits for its discharges of selenium.
The projects, at three different sites, will each reduce surface water pollution, thereby improving the environment and reducing risks to the environment and to public health. The projects must, per the settlement, primarily benefit the public and the environment, not the polluter.
“We are pleased to see controls put on A&G Coal Corporation’s pollution and to have secured a penalty that will be used to benefit the community,” said Glen Besa, Director of Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter.
The Oct. 28 consent decree filing comes after the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ July 2014 decision finding A&G Coal liable for its selenium pollution and ultimately accountable for discharging toxic pollution at levels that exceed state water quality standards. Selenium, a toxic element that can cause reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life, is discharged from many surface coal-mining operations across Appalachia.
The consent decree will be lodged with the court for 45 days pending review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.