Verdict in Fola lawsuit confirms harm from conductivity

In late January, U.S. Circuit Judge Robert?Chambers once more found that high conductivity levels resulting from pollution flowing from mountaintop removal mining operations harm the biological integrity of streams and violate water quality standards.

On Jan. 27, Chambers ruled that Fola Coal Co., a unit of Consol Energy Inc., had violated its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit by discharging high amounts of ionic pollution ? salts and total dissolved solids ? into the Stillhouse Branch.

?The water chemistry of this stream has been dramatically altered, containing levels of ionic salts ? measured as conductivity ? which are scientifically proven to be seriously detrimental to aquatic life,? Chambers wrote in the ruling.

The high levels of conductivity significantly impacted life in the stream.

?As key ingredients to West Virginia?s once-abundant clean water, the upper reaches of West Virginia?s complex network of flowing streams provide critical attributes ? ‘functions,’ in ecological science ? that support the downstream water quality relied upon by West Virginians for drinking water, fishing and recreation and important economic uses,” Chambers wrote.

Appalachian Mountain Advocates brought this lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. This verdict echoes another ruling in June 2014 that found Alpha Natural Resources responsible for conductivity pollution near its mines. The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals denied an interlocutory appeal to that ruling, leading to a settlement in which Alpha agreed to clean up the streams.

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