Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Historic Federal Decision Finds West Virginia Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Companies Guilty of Damaging Streams

Energy

Believe it or not, no federal court in the U.S. had ever ruled that high conductivity discharges from coal mines were harmful to streams until this week.

Everything changed with a historic decision in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia that found two companies guilty of violating clean water protections. The decision was a result of a citizen lawsuit filed more than two years ago accusing mountaintop removal mines owned by Alex Energy and Elk Run Coal Co. contaminated waters in Laurel Creek and Robinson Fork with sulfate and other dissolved solids, adding toxicity to the ecosystem of aquatic creatures.

Streams in West Virginia have been damaged as a result of mountaintop coal mine removal, a federal court found this week. Photo credit: Brian Stansberry via Sierra Club

“Pollution such as the high conductivity discharges addressed in this litigation represents the steady degradation of streams that is stealing the future from generations to come,” Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, said in a statement from the Sierra Club. “Passage of the Clean Water Act over 40 years ago was a wise and prescient recognition that waters of the US can support a healthy human population and economy only when those waters are healthy themselves.

"[The federal] court decision makes it clear that the integrity of our streams must be protected from the real danger of being destroyed by the millions of tiny cuts made by activities like the coal mining operations along Laurel Creek and Robinson Fork.”

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Sierra Club and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy filed the suit. The decision represents a change of heart for federal courts. Guidance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on mountaintop removal's impact on streams was struck down in In July 2011. Now, the court ruled that the process results in a loss of diversity for aquatic life because "only pollution-tolerant species survive" in what were once thriving aquatic ecosystems.

“This decision further confirms that the science overwhelmingly shows that coal mines in Appalachia are harming streams due to conductivity pollution,” said Aaron Isherwood, Managing Attorney for the Sierra Club. “The court’s ruling further underscores the need for EPA to engage in rulemaking to protect Appalachian streams from conductivity pollution that is very harmful to aquatic life.”

Though the suit dealt specifically with Laurel Creek and Robinson Fork, Jim Hecker, co-counsel in the case and Environmental Enforcement Director at Public Justice, said the problem is widespread. He believes the decision will now force companies to internalize treatment costs they had been avoiding.

"In an earlier West Virginia case that was settled, a mining company estimated that the cost to construct a treatment system to remove conductivity from a 1000 gallon-per-minute flow of wastewater is over $18 million,” Hecker said.

Though the decision is a landmark decision for the environment, it is merely one case and has not resulted in permanent legislation at the federal level, much less in West Virginia.

“As the court recognized in its decision, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is not enforcing its own narrative standards against mountaintop removal coal mines,” Vivian Stockman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition said. “Unfortunately, that means it's up to citizens like us to enforce the law and protect our precious streams.

"Ultimately, protecting streams is not just for aquatic life, it is for us.” 

——–

YOU ALSO MIGHT LIKE

First-Ever Book Educating Children About Dangers of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Continues to Destroy Appalachia

——– 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A view of a washed out road near Utuado, Puerto Rico, after a Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew dropped relief supplies to residents Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. The locals were stranded after Hurricane Maria by washed out roads and mudslides. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric D. Woodall / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Coral Natalie Negrón Almodóvar

The Earth began to shake as Tamar Hernández drove to visit her mother in Yauco, Puerto Rico, on Dec. 28, 2019. She did not feel that first tremor — she felt only the ensuing aftershocks — but she worried because her mother had an ankle injury and could not walk. Then Hernández thought, "What if something worse is coming our way?"

Read More
Flooded battery park tunnel is seen after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. CC BY 2.0

President Trump has long touted the efficacy of walls, funneling billions of Defense Department dollars to build a wall on the southern border. However, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) released a study that included plans for a sea wall to protect New Yorkers from sea-level rise and catastrophic storms like Hurricane Sandy, Trump mocked it as ineffective and unsightly.

Read More
Sponsored
A general view of fire damaged country in the The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area near the town of Blackheath on Feb. 21, 2020 in Blackheath, Australia. Brook Mitchell / Getty Images

In a post-mortem of the Australian bushfires, which raged for five months, scientists have concluded that their intensity and duration far surpassed what climate models had predicted, according to a study published yesterday in Nature Climate Change.

Read More
Sea level rise causes water to spill over from the Lafayette River onto Llewellyn Ave in Norfolk, Virginia just after high tide on Aug. 5, 2017. This road floods often, even when there is no rain. Skyler Ballard / Chesapeake Bay Program

By Tim Radford

The Texan city of Houston is about to grow in unexpected ways, thanks to the rising tides. So will Dallas. Real estate agents in Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; and Las Vegas, Nevada could expect to do roaring business.

Read More
Malala Yousafzai (left) and Greta Thunberg (right) met in Oxford University Tuesday. Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

What happens when a famous school striker meets a renowned campaigner for education rights?

Read More