Lawyers for Appalachian Mountain Advocates have negotiated another important settlement in a selenium pollution case that will not only force a coal company to treat polluted waters but also provide funding to preserve and protect land in Southern West Virginia.
Selenium is a bioaccumulating toxin that can severely disrupt aquatic life in streams far from the mines that generate it. Because it accumulates in the food chain, even tiny amounts can cause significant ecologic damage. (Read more about selenium here.)
The proposed consent decree with Arch Coal would require the company to begin treating selenium runoff from six of its West Virginia mines. Those sites will have to be strictly monitored to ensure the treatment is working to keep selenium levels at acceptable levels. Arch will have to pay $25,000 apiece for any further violations.
In addition, Arch would pay $2 million. Of that, $200,000 would go to the U.S. government and $1.8 million would go to?West Virginia College of Law?s Land Use and Sustainable Development Clinic, which was?established after?a prior settlement with CONSOL?over similar issues.
The clinic is working with the West Virginia Land Trust, which received funding from another coal mining pollution case Appalachian Mountain Advocates settled with Massey, to work on establishing conservation easements. The clinic is helping the state build expertise and capacity, exposing law school students to a very complex and important area of the law.
Selenium pollution is extremely expensive to treat ? and most experts believe treatment of effected sites will be required for many decades. Ensuring that coal companies are held liable for the costs of that treatment is the only way to prevent West Virginia taxpayers from being forced to pay for the pollution treatment.
The selenium lawsuits brought by Appalachian Mountain Advocates are having a substantial cumulative effect. Patriot Coal is in the process of spending nearly $100 million on selenium treatment thanks to an order by U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers?when he found the company in contempt of court for not meeting deadlines for cleaning up selenium discharges.
The land conservation efforts also funded by these settlements will help balance the damage done by years of violations.