FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 1, 2011
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.