Mar
05
2013
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W.Va. House committee votes to weaken EPA standard

http://www.seattlepi.com/news/science/article/W-Va-House-committee-votes-to-weaken-EPA-standard-4327419.http://www.seattlepi.com/news/science/article/W-Va-House-committee-votes-to-weaken-EPA-standard-4327419.php

 

By DAVID GUTMAN, Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — After a contentious public hearing pitting the coal industry against environmental advocates, the West Virginia House Judiciary Committee, in a near unanimous voice vote, advanced legislation that would weaken the state’s selenium regulations.

The bill would authorize the state Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a study to determine state-specific guidelines for how much selenium is acceptable in state waters.

If sites are found to have exceeded selenium guidelines, that would no longer be treated as a punishable violation, but would instead trigger additional monitoring.

 Read more…

Written by Administrator in: EPA,Selenium |
Jan
22
2013
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West Virginia’s streams are in trouble

http://www.appalmad.org/slider/west-virginias-streams-are-in-trouble/

More than 40 percent of West Virginia’s rivers are too polluted to pass simple water-quality safety thresholds. They are too polluted to be safely used for drinking water or recreation, or to support healthy aquatic life.

This is due in large part to pollution from decades of mining. From ongoing pollution from active mountaintop removal mines and toxic discharges from poorly reclaimed mines, the quality streams of West Virginia has never been more degraded.

 

Read more…

Written by Administrator in: Selenium,Water Quality |
Jun
12
2012
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FOLA 4A – More selenium

By Cindy Rank

On March 22, 2012, James Tawney and I accompanied our lawyer, representatives of Fola Coal, WV Department of Environmental Protection and Downstream Strategies on a citizens’ inspection of specific discharge areas of the Fola 4A mine complex in Clay County.

Sampling by WV Department of Environmental Protection and Downstream Strategies at discharge points and instream along Leatherwood Creek of the Elk River confirmed earlier documentation of selenium violations from the mine area (Fola’s Discharge Monitoring Reports and WV DEP Watershed Assessment Branch monitoring data).

By certified mail dated May 25, 2012 Appalachian Mountain Advocates filed a 60 Day Notice of Intent to Sue Fola Coal Company for violations of the company’s NPDES water discharge permits and for violations of three of its surface mine permits.

Representing West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Sierra Club and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition lawyers with the Advocates cite Clean Water Act violations for failure to meet effluent standards by failing to comply with terms and conditions of the discharge permits, and ongoing violations of instream water quality for selenium.

In addition Fola Coal is violating performance standards of state and federal surface mining laws that prohibit water quality violations and require adequate treatment to avoid such violations.

Not often thought of as part of the state impacted by mountaintop removal mining, a major portion of the area around the Clay-Nicholas County line is covered by extensive and contiguous mining permits held mostly by Alex Mining and Fola Coal.

Past issues of the Highlands Voice have detailed settlement agreements previously reached with each of these companies to clean up selenium and other harmful discharges in the Gauley River drainage on the south east portion of the mining complex. The Fola mining areas included in this recent Notice of Intent to Sue are located more on the northwest portion of the massive multiple mine complex.

Written by Administrator in: Selenium,The Highlands Voice |
Jan
20
2012
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Breaking News: Patriot agrees to huge selenium cleanup

http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2012/01/18/breaking-patriot-agrees-to-huge-selenium-cleanup/

Breaking: Patriot agrees to huge selenium cleanup
January 18, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

Photo by Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

In federal court down in Huntington, attorneys for the Sierra Club and other groups have just filed copies of a major lawsuit settlement that insiders are saying could require Patriot Coal to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to treat selenium pollution from three of the company’s major mountaintop removal mining complexes here in West Virginia.
The deal will require Patriot to build and operate new treatment systems for 43 water discharge outfalls on 10 different permits — far more than 14 outlets covered in a previous deal with Alpha Natural Resources or the five outfalls included in a settlement with Arch Coal

Read more…

Read press release

Read final settlement

Written by Administrator in: Mountaintop Removal,Selenium,Water Quality |
Jan
10
2012
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ALPHA NATURAL RESOURCES TO TREAT SELENIUM POLLUTION FROM MINES IN FOUR WV COUNTIES

By Cindy Rank

We ended the 2011 year with positive news about the outcome of one of our lawsuits against mining companies to force the cleanup of pollution being discharged from a variety of minesites. [See front page December 2011 Voice story about the FOLA/Consol agreement.]

It seems only fitting that we begin the new year with another upbeat story focused on another similarly positive agreement, this time with Alpha Natural Resources (the company that bought Massey Energy not so many months ago).

The Alpha Consent Decree was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Huntington WV on December 12, 2011.

The earlier FOLA agreement required treating pollution from mines in the Twentymile Creek area of the Gauley River. This more recent agreement with Alpha Natural Resources requires the company to clean up discharges at some 14 outlets at three large mining complexes along mountain ridges in Logan, Boone, Kanawha and Fayette Counties of West Virginia. The discharges impact major tributaries that are part of the Coal, Kanawha and Gauley River watersheds.

In this latter settlement selenium is the culprit and Alpha will pay some $4.5 million in penalties as well as design and install treatment systems that will likely cost another $50 million.

The agreement sets forth specific requirements, timeframes and schedules for Alpha to come into compliance with state and federal Clean Water and Surface Mine Acts. Compliance monitoring and reporting with be overseen by Special Masters (an Engineering Master to monitor the design and construction of treatment systems, and a Biology/Aquatic Ecology Master to monitor the quality and stream life of the receiving streams), reviewed by our competent legal team and finally enforceable by the court itself.

Since the litigation was brought pursuant to citizen suit provisions of federal law, the U.S. government will have an opportunity to review the settlement before its terms take effect. Some $450,000.00 of penalties will go to the federal government and some $4,050,000.00 will go to the West Virginia Land Trust (WVLT) for a Supplemental Environmental Project to restore riparian areas and preserve land within the watersheds impacted.

The WVLT is already working in close partnership with the West Virginia College of Law’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development(CESD) under a previous Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) brought about in a separate Civil Action to develop a Riparian Area Preservation Project in the Coal, Elk and Gauley River watersheds.

The two organizations are working collaboratively to identify properties with ecological significance, including riparian areas, in the watersheds affected by the discharges at issue and to preserve these lands by accepting donated conservation easements or through the purchase of easements or land in fee.

Under the terms of this current SEP project, the West Virginia Land Trust will continue this work, add the Kanawha River Watershed to the scope of activity, and at the same time, increase its organizational infrastructure to strengthen its ability to work statewide and significantly increase the number of acres that can be preserved annually.

POSTSCRIPT

And, in case readers think I’ve gone all soft and gooey eyed with the coming of the new year, allow me a few words of negativity.

Over the past thirty plus years I’ve been to most of the minesites and visited the area streams that are frequently involved in our legal challenges, and I can’t end this article without offering two final gestures.

1) A grateful nod to our legal team headed by the folks at Appalachian Mountain Advocates (previously known as the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment) and Public Justice and others who continue to assist us through the legal and technical morass of mine permits. And to members of WV Highlands Conservancy and our ever faithful co-plaintiffs the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch and the Sierra Club, many of whom face challenges of a more personal and debilitating nature every day of living near today’s monster strip mines.

And 2) a moment of sober sadness which washes over me every time I sit with my topo maps and Gazetteer to make sense of the senselessness represented by the multitude of permits that should never have been granted in the first place.

As for the water pollution, we’ve been down this path with Acid Mine Drainage in the not so distant past and it’s painful to argue against permits that will inevitably result in further pollution of our irreplaceable headwater streams (not to mention the destruction of thousands of acres of hardwood forests and the people and generations old communities that once populated the hills and hollows) only to see those permits granted one after the other. The long term costs will be astronomical.

To see on the WV Department of Environmental Protection’s GIS mapping website the mass of permits that almost seamlessly blanket a wide swath of West Virginia from Mingo and McDowell Counties to Webster, Clay and Nicholas further north.

The picture is even more frightening than the one we carried to Judge Haden back in 1998.

Happy New Year.

 

Written by Administrator in: Selenium,The Highlands Voice |
Dec
12
2011
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Groups Secure Agreement from Alpha Natural Resources to Treat Pollution from Mines

For Immediate Release
December 12,
2011

Contact:
Sean Sarah, Sierra Club, 202 548-4589 sean.sarah@sierraclub.org
Jim Sconyers, Sierra Club, 304-698-9628, jimscon@gmail.com

Cindy Rank, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, 304-924-5802, clrank2@gmail.com
Dianne Bady, OVEC, 304-360-2072, dbady.ovec@gmail.com

Vernon Haltom, Coal River Mountain Watch, 304-541-1080, vernoncrmw@gmail.com

Groups Secure Agreement from Alpha Natural Resources

to Treat Pollution from Mines
Settlement Requires Installation of Treatment Facilities and $4.5 million penalty

Charleston, WV – Today, a coalition of conservation and environmental groups completed a legal settlement with Alpha Natural Resources over high levels of selenium output at several of the company’s West Virginia coal mines. The settlement requires that the coal mining company – formerly Massey Energy —  begin construction of selenium treatment facilities with an estimated construction cost of over $50 million, and to pay penalties of $4.5 million. The suit was brought by the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and Coal River Mountain Watch.

“This settlement will require Alpha to pay their due and start addressing the damage done to West Virginia waterways,” said Jim Sconyers, Chair of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “This settlement reflects another step in our fight to ensure that coal companies act responsibly in regards to the health of surrounding communities and West Virginia’s wild lands.”

The settlement requires Alpha to immediately begin installing treatment technology to bring selenium discharges within acceptable levels.  The proposed date of final compliance for the settlement is July 1, 2014 for all mines affected to ensure Alpha has time to install treatment facilities and make any necessary adjustments. Alpha will be subject to significant penalties for any violations that occur after the compliance date for each source of pollution. The vast majority of the penalties will go to the West Virginia Land Trust.

“This settlement, which follows recent agreements with Arch Coal and Patriot Coal, proves that coal mines in West Virginia have the ability to treat their selenium problems,” said Dianne Bady with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “Now it’s time for all coal companies to take similar actions.”

“Although treatment may be sufficient to address these existing selenium problems, ultimately the industry and regulators need to recognize that it’s not appropriate to mine coal seams that are high in selenium,” said Cindy Rank with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

Selenium, a toxic element that causes reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life, is discharged from many surface coal-mining operations across Appalachia.  At very high levels, selenium can pose a risk to human health, causing hair and fingernail loss, kidney and liver damage, and damage to the nervous and circulatory systems.

“The West Virginia DEP should be ashamed that citizen groups are doing what the agency should have done years ago,” said Vernon Haltom, executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “Instead, it’s left to citizen groups to take action to protect West Virginia’s streams and communities.”

The settlement was lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.  The U.S. government will have an opportunity to review the settlement before its terms take effect.

The coalition was represented by Joe Lovett and Derek Teaney with the Appalachian Mountain Advocates. For more information on selenium visit www.sierraclub.org/seleniumfacts

For Copies of the documents filed click below.

131-main

131-1

131-2

Written by Administrator in: Mountaintop Removal,Selenium,Water Quality |
Apr
06
2011
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VICTORY IN ANOTHER SELENIUM CHALLENGE

By Cindy Rank

On March 31, 2011 Judge Robert Chambers of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia ruled that several mines operated by Massey Energy and Arch Coal have been releasing illegally high levels of toxic selenium into local waterways in West Virginia, violating clean water and mining laws.

Fresh from attending the annual Mine Drainage Symposium in Morgantown WV I was culling my email when the announcement arrived in my inbox.

Citizen groups are frequently criticized for not working WITH the agencies to resolve issues with mine permits and operations, and I certainly heard that sentiment repeated on several occasions during the mine drainage symposium – both implied in some of the presentations and directly in conversations with regulatory agency personnel.

But the delays and extensions and foot-dragging we’ve seen with regard to the Arch and Massey operations at issue in this litigation are examples of why we so often feel compelled to exercise our legal responsibility to file Citizens Suits in order to achieve some on-the-ground relief from polluting mining operations.

The pollution from mines operated by Massey subsidiaries Independence Coal Company and Jacks Branch Coal Company, as well as from mines operated by Arch subsidiaries Coal-Mac and Mingo Logan, represents just one part of a pattern of toxic selenium pollution from surface mines across Appalachia.

Selenium severely harms fish and other water life, causing reproductive failure, birth defects and damage to gills and internal organs. Selenium in some West Virginia streams has been linked to fish deformities, producing fish with two eyes on one side of their heads. At very high levels, selenium can be toxic to people, causing hair and fingernail loss, kidney and liver damage, and damage to the nervous and circulatory systems.

The citizen enforcement action that gave rise to this recent decision by Judge Chambers was brought by WV Highlands Conservancy along with Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch and the West Virginia Sierra Club.

In this first step to resolve this particular litigation Judge Chambers determined that the companies are violating the Clean Water Act and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Additional proceedings will be scheduled after April 15, 2011 to determine actions the companies must take to prevent future violations, and to assess penalties for violations cited in the case.

As you may remember, in September 2010, in a case brought by our same groups against a different mine operator, Judge Chambers ordered Patriot Coal to treat selenium pollution at just one of its coal mines in southern West Virginia at an estimated cost of $45 million.

We’re grateful for this decision and look forward to improvements at these and similar operations where selenium discharges continue to pollute the waters of our state, waters which we all depend on.

And we’re ever so grateful to Joe Lovett and Derek Teaney of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment for representing us in these matters.

Apr
06
2011
--

GROUPS FILE SUIT OVER SELENIUM POLLUTION

The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the West Virginia Chapter, Sierra Club, have filed a lawsuit against ICG Eastern mining company in the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia. The goal of the lawsuit is to end the discharge of toxic selenium into the waters of West Virginia from its Knight-Ink #1 mountaintop removal mine in Webster County, West Virginia.

Selenium, a naturally occurring element found in many rocks and soils, is an antioxidant needed in very small amounts for good health. In slightly larger amounts, selenium can be toxic.

Selenium impacts the reproductive cycle of many aquatic species, can impair the development and survival of fish, and can damage gills or other organs of aquatic organisms subject to prolonged exposure. In humans it can cause deadly kidney and liver damage, as well as damage to the nervous and circulatory systems.

Reports from the mine discharge show that the mine has been and continues to discharge water with toxic levels of selenium. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has attempted to allow ICG to continue to discharge the toxic pollutant.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has objected to West Virginia’s attempt to allow ICG Eastern and other companies to continue their illegal pollution.

The suit was filed pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act. It allows citizens to file suit when, as here, there is ongoing pollution and the state officials are not taking any steps to enforce the law.

Cindy Rank, of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, said “If we don’t stop these illegal and harmful discharges of selenium now, we have only ourselves to blame for the destruction of our valuable water resources and for the long term liabilities that will be passed along to our children, grandchildren and future citizens of the state.”

Written by Administrator in: Selenium,The Highlands Voice,Water Quality |
Apr
01
2011
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Judge Finds Massey Energy and Arch Coal Violating Clean Water Act at Multiple West Virginia Coal Mines

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 1, 2011

Contacts:

Dianne Bady, Co-Director, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, 304-360-0272

Vernon Haltom, Executive Director, Coal River Mountain Watch, 304-301-4045

Cindy Rank, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, 304-924-5802

Jim Sconyers, Chair, Sierra Club, West Virginia Chapter, 304-698-9628

Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club, 512-477-2152

Judge Finds Massey Energy and Arch Coal Violating Clean Water Act at Multiple West Virginia Coal Mines

Cites Failure to Control Toxic Selenium Pollution

Charleston, WV: The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia ruled yesterday that several mines operated by Massey Energy and Arch Coal have been releasing illegally high levels of toxic selenium into local waterways in West Virginia, violating clean water and mining laws.

The pollution from mines operated by Massey’s subsidiaries Independence Coal Company and Jacks Branch Coal Company, as well as from mines operated by Arch’s subsidiaries Coal-Mac, Inc. and Mingo Logan Coal Company, represents just one part of a pattern of toxic selenium pollution from surface mines across Appalachia. The citizen enforcement action that gave rise to the decision by Judge Robert Chambers was brought by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Coal River Mountain Watch, and the Sierra Club.

Judge Chambers’ order determined that the companies are violating the Clean Water Act and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.  Additional proceedings will be required to determine the actions the companies must take to prevent future violations, and to assess penalties.

In September 2010, in a case brought by the same groups against a different mine operator, Judge Chambers ordered Patriot Coal to treat the selenium pollution at just one of its coal mines at an estimated cost of $45 million.

Selenium severely harms fish and other water life, causing reproductive failure, birth defects and damage to gills and internal organs. Selenium in some West Virginia streams has been linked to fish deformities, producing fish with two eyes on one side of their heads. At very high levels, selenium can be toxic to people, causing hair and fingernail loss, kidney and liver damage, and damage to the nervous and circulatory systems.

In response to Judge Chambers’ ruling, community groups issued the following statements.

“Surface mining in southern West Virginia is projected to dramatically decrease over the next decade, regardless of environmental actions or regulations. Clean water is an absolute necessity for all life, and also a necessity for a sustainable future economy. I’m glad that this court decision means we can move forward with our efforts to protect water from Massey and Arch’s chronic selenium pollution violations,” said Dianne Bady, co-director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

“Citizen groups are frequently criticized for not working WITH the agencies to resolve issues with mine permits, but the delays and extensions and foot-dragging we’ve seen with regard to these Arch and Massey operations are examples of why we so often feel compelled to exercise our legal responsibility to file Citizens Suits in order to achieve some on the ground relief from polluting mining operations,” said Cindy Rank with the WV Highlands Conservancy.  “We’re grateful for this decision and look forward to improvements at these and similar operations where selenium discharges continue to pollute the waters of our state.”

“Coal companies routinely violate the laws designed to protect the people and the vital resources on which we depend.  The West Virginia Dept. of Environmental Protection has continued to give chronic polluters a free pass.  The citizens have to rely on court decisions such as this one to protect us and to hold Massey and Arch accountable,” said Vernon Haltom, Executive Director of Coal River Mountain Watch.

“The people and land and water have been paying the price for these companies and their coal operations too long. It’s time Arch and Massey and the other coal operators paid all the costs; we’re sick of subsidizing these wealthy megacorporations,” said Jim Sconyers, Chair of Sierra Club’s West Virginia Chapter.

The plaintiff groups are represented by Joe Lovett and Derek Teaney of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment.

For more information on selenium visit http://sc.org/seleniumfacts.

Written by Administrator in: Federal Government,Mining Matters,Selenium,Water Quality |
Mar
04
2011
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REINSTATING THE PATRIOT SUIT

By Cindy Rank

On February 18, 2011 West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Council and West Virginia Sierra Club reinstated our claims against Patriot Coal for selenium violations at several of its operations in southern West Virginia.

Background

As reported in previous issues of the Voice (September and December 2010), U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers decided in our favor after lengthy court hearings about the necessity for Patriot Coal to treat its discharges to reduce the harmful levels of selenium in water flowing from the Apogee NW Ruffner mine in Logan County and the Hobet 22 mine in Lincoln.

Not only were the levels of selenium from the two Patriot Coal mines in violation of their permit limits, but selenium impacts reproductions of aquatic species, impairs development and survival of fish, and damages gills and other organs. It can also be toxic to humans, causing kidney and liver damage, and damage to the nervous and circulatory systems.

The presence and harmful effects of excessive selenium from valley fills was first brought to public attention as a result of the Mountaintop/Valley Fill Environmental Impact Study conducted as a result of the Bragg litigation in 1998. Additional EPA studies as well as WV Department of Environmental Protection water sampling since then have further confirmed the ill effects of selenium. Outstanding also are a report by Dennis Lemly about the abnormal aspects of fish and aquatic life sampled in the Upper Mud River Reservoir downstream of the Hobet operations which prompted him to warn of a pending toxic event, and the more recent compilation of information in the January 2010 Science authored by Margaret Palmer and a dozen respected scientists.

Judge Chambers gave Patriot’s subsidiaries Apogee and Hobet 2 ½ years to install treatment systems at the mines and ordered Patriot to post a $45 million letter of credit to ensure the treatment systems are installed. A special master was appointed to oversee the matter.

Patriot filed an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, but dismissed the appeal after coming to an agreement with the plaintiffs (WVHC, OVEC, WV Sierra Club) to accept the court order to install treatment and refrain from any new mining permits to strip mine coal seams known to be associated with selenium.

This promises to be the first time that adequate treatment for selenium will be employed at mines in West Virginia. However, as plans for the treatment systems proceed illegal and harmful levels of selenium continue to flow from other Patriot mines in southern West Virginia.

Current Actions

As part of the agreement last October plaintiffs agreed to stand down on (i.e. not pursue or challenge) violations at Apogee NW Ruffner and Hobet 22 before the completion of the treatment systems in accordance with the Court’s order. However, we agreed only to wait until April of 2012 before challenging violations at other Patriot mines.

We filed a Notice of Intent to challenge these additional violations in mid-December 2010. More than the sixty days of required notice have passed and none of the Federal or WV regulatory agencies which were served notice have commenced and diligently prosecuted a civil or criminal action to require compliance with the Clean Water Act or the Surface Mine Act.

This February 18, 2011 filing, made on our behalf by Joe Lovett and Derek Teaney of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment is the next step in the process that will take until April 2012 to bring these claims to trial.

The complaint alleges over 8,000 days of violation at several mines owned and operated by Patriot Coal subsidiaries Apogee, Hobet and Catenary in Kanawha, Boone, Lincoln and Logan Counties. Most notable are mines at the major mine complexes commonly known as Hobet 21, Samples and East Ruffner.

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