On Dec. 19, 2014, Appalachian Mountain Advocates announced three settlements with Central Appalachian coal companies that will require the companies to treat unlawful selenium discharges into West Virginia?s waters, to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to efforts to protect West Virginia?s streams and riparian areas, and to pay civil fines to the U.S. Treasury.
The settlements resolve multiple citizen suits under the U.S. Clean Water Act and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. The suits were brought by the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and Coal River Mountain Watch, represented by Appalmad.
In each case, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia had held the coal companies liable for violating federal environmental law for discharging selenium ? a toxic pollutant that causes deformity and death in aquatic species ? in concentrations that caused violations of water quality standards. After the court held the companies liable, they agreed to treat their discharges.
The cases involved two subsidiaries of CONSOL Energy, Inc. (Fola Coal Company, LLC, and CONSOL of Kentucky, Inc.) and seven subsidiaries of Alpha Natural Resources (Alex Energy, Inc.; Aracoma Coal Company, Inc.; Bandmill Coal Corporation; Highland Mining Company; Independence Coal Company, Inc.; Kanawha Energy Company; and Marfork Coal Company).
The settlements will require the companies to treat selenium from 14 discharge points in Mingo, Clay, Raleigh, Logan, Boone, Kanawha, and Nicholas Counties ? including the Brushy Fork Slurry Impoundment. Additionally, the settlements require the coal companies to contribute a total of $778,500 to the West Virginia Land Trust for special environmental projects and to pay a civil fine of $86,500.
Appalachian Mountain Advocates has been prosecuting these companies for the violations at issue since 2012.? These cases were precedent setting because they established that polluters in West Virginia could be held liable for violating water quality standards even if their Clean Water Act permits did not place specific numeric limits on a particular pollutant.