Citizens Compel Landowner of Reclaimed WV Mountaintop Removal Mines to Apply for Pollution Permit
Corporate Landowners Across Appalachia on Notice That Responsibility for Pollution Cannot be Avoided
Last week, corporate landowner Pocahontas agreed in a legal settlement to apply for a Clean Water Act permit for its ongoing pollution at the former Pounding Mill No. 1 and Surface Mine No. 8 sites in Mingo County, West Virginia. When the mines were shuttered, all of the permits pertaining to mining were released, meaning the company that profited from its ownership of the mine sites no longer has to report its pollution, or has to make sure its pollution is within permit limits.
“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 and entered into Wednesday’s agreement include Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Sierra Club, and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
"The legacy costs of mining, especially regarding selenium pollution, could continue for generations. Cleaning up this water pollution, whether from a mining company, a private individual, or a land-holding company, is the right thing to do for the common good” said Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Executive Director Janet Keating.
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.
“Whether from active, abandoned, or in this instance ’reclaimed’ coal mine operations, the widespread nature of selenium impaired streams is a picture of pollution our state can’t afford,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “We are pleased that Pocahontas has agreed to obtain the requisite Clean Water Act permits and address selenium pollution coming from their properties.”
This settlement is the latest in an ongoing effort by a broad coalition of local citizen groups to clean up coal’s long legacy of pollution in Appalachia. There are dozens more sites that are leaching dangerous chemicals into streams across the region, and these shuttered mines require significant investments to clean up to safe standards.
“While it’s good news that Pocahontas will be held responsible for the environmental damage inflicted by these mines, the question remains – when will other landowners wise up and figure out that you can no longer escape responsibility for the pollution that results from renting out your land to be strip-mined” continued Wiles, Chair of the West Virginia Sierra Club. “The real solution is to stop permitting these mines in the first place, and that will happen once landowners realize that there is no escaping responsibility for the pollution on their land.”
The citizen groups involved in this litigation and settlement were represented by attorneys with Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
Campaign Name: Beyond Coal
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