Groups sue West Virginia over abandoned coal mine sites

The Sierra Club announced that on April 20 a coalition of environmental and community groups filed two lawsuits in federal district courts in West Virginia, saying the state needs to be accountable for mining pollution generated from seven former mine sites now owned and managed by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP).

When coal mine operators in West Virginia go out of business before they complete all of the reclamation required by law, the state becomes responsible for finishing the clean-up, including managing any water pollution coming from the site. However, coal mines continue to generate harmful water pollution long after the mines are shut down.

The new lawsuits allege that West Virginia is violating the Clean Water Act by discharging a variety of mining pollutants at levels that exceed water quality standards and permit limits from sites in Barbour, Nicholas, and Preston counties. The groups bringing the lawsuits are the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the Sierra Club.

“It is by now beyond question that coal mines – even reclaimed mines or mines in the process of reclamation – discharge harmful mining pollutants into West Virginia streams,” said Liz Wiles, Chair of West Virginia Sierra Club. “When the State of West Virginia takes responsibility for these toxic sites, it needs to do everything in its power to prevent them from threatening our communities and our clean water.”

The club said that despite the fact that hundreds of mines in the state are owned by companies that are in bankruptcy or otherwise significantly financially distressed, West Virginia has made no effort to require mine operators to pledge additional funds to cover the costs of reclamation or water treatment.

“By burying their heads in the sand these past two decades and ignoring how the looming crisis of bankrupt coal companies would further deplete the state’s inadequate Special Reclamation Fund, West Virginia lawmakers have virtually guaranteed that citizens and taxpayers will be the ones responsible for cleaning up these coal company messes,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

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.