Coalition Seeks To Hold Landowner Responsible for Mining Pollution Shuttered Mountaintop Removal Mines Still Polluting West Virginia Rivers and Streams
Charleston, WV -- Today, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Sierra Club took action to stop pollution coming from three valley fills at two former mountaintop removal sites owned by Pocahontas Land Corporation. Today’s legal action, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, argues that landowning companies are responsible for ensuring that inactive mountaintop removal sites still meet Clean Water Act protections against mining pollution. In the case of the two Mingo County sites named in this action, the groups have found that Pocahontas Land Corporation is discharging pollutants without a permit, and therefore has failed to meet its legal responsibility to protect local rivers and streams from mining pollution.
"These mines never should have had their permits released in the first place," said Jim Sconyers of the West Virginia Sierra Club. "But just because there's no permit doesn't mean there's no pollution. Pocahontas got its profit from the sites, but left the pollution. Now it’s time for Pocahontas to be held accountable."
Even after a mine is reclaimed, valley fills continue to collect and channel water into local waterways. Valley fills are engineered with ditches on their surface and drains underneath; these ditches and drains are integral to the permanent structural stability of the fills, and so are not removed as part of mine reclamation. The ditches and drains convey and discharge water from discrete locations. Water samples collected downstream from the sites, at publicly accessible locations, found increased electrical conductivity, total dissolved solids, and sulfates in the streams. Elevated levels of those pollutants are reliable indicators of surface coal mining pollution. The conductivity measured at the sites was at least two to three times higher than safe levels for aquatic ecosystems. When conductivity reaches these levels it becomes increasingly difficult for aquatic species to survive in impacted rivers and streams. Significant research on West Virginia’s waterways has found that high levels of conductivity exist in areas downstream from active or former mining sites.
“The recent pollution of the Elk River and Charleston West Virginia’s water supply has made it exceedingly clear that every effort must be made to maintain the integrity of our states waters. This complaint is but one more of our ongoing efforts to hold landowners responsible for harmful discharges from their properties. The Clean Water Act demands it and the citizens of West Virginia deserve no less,” said Cindy Rank of the WV Highlands Conservancy.
“If corporations that profit from mountaintop removal were forced to pay more of the true costs of this devastating form of mining, it would not be economically feasible,” said Dianne Bady of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “We continue to file lawsuits to try to require big landholding corporations to pay to treat the polluted water that is a long term legacy of mountaintop removal, in the hopes that this message will sink in to those who finance coal mines.”
This action was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and Sierra Club are represented in this matter by Joe Lovett and Ben Luckett of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.