US District Court Affirms Clean Water Act Protections for West Virginia Families

CHARLESTON, WV– Today, the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia found that conductivity pollution from Fola Coal’s Monoc #2 Surface Mine, located along the southern portion of the Leatherwood Creek watershed, violated key state and federal water quality protections. The mine is located in Nicholas and Clay counties and dumps mine waste into valley fills located in tributaries to Leatherwood Creek.  Appalachian Mountain Advocates and Public Justice litigated this case on behalf of the Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and West Virginia Rivers Coalition.

The ionic pollutants at issue – measured through the electrical conductivity of water samples – are discharged by virtually every mine in Appalachia that utilizes valley fills, are extremely harmful to aquatic life in streams, and also serve as an indicator of other possible pollution problems. The court’s decision, which followed a two-day trial and extensive briefing, rejected every defense and expert opinion put forward by the mining industry as to Fola’s pollution of Shanty Branch and Elick Hollow. Next, the Court will hold a trial to determine the remedy to this situation.

“This is a major victory for families in West Virginia and the waters that they rely on to be safe and healthy for their children and communities,” said Jim Kotcon, Chapter Chair for the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “This is also a reminder to coal companies that they cannot expect to pollute with impunity– we will continue to fight for our health, waters, lands, and wallets. Now, we hope to see the Court hold Fola Coal accountable for cleaning up the mess they’ve made because West Virginia taxpayers will not be left with the bill and the burden of repairing the environmental degradation left behind by coal mining.”

“This is the first court decision that uses West Virginia’s newer, more accurate, and peer-reviewed method of measuring biological impairment in streams,” said Jim Hecker, Environmental Enforcement Director at Public Justice.  “Unfortunately, West Virginia has refused to apply that method to mine pollution, forcing citizens to bring court actions like this one to enforce the law.”

The action was brought against Fola Coal by Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and West Virginia Rivers Coalition. The groups were represented by attorneys with Appalachian Mountain Advocates and Public Justice.