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Groups Contend Owners of Former MTR Sites Accountable for Water Pollution

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

For Immediate Release: May 29, 2013

Sean Sarah, Sierra Club, 202 548-4589, sean.sarah@sierraclub.org
Jim Sconyers, Sierra Club, 304 698-9628, jimscon@gmail.com
Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, 304 360-1979, vivian@ohvec.org
Cindy Rank, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, 304 924-5802, clrank2@gmail.com

Groups Hold Owners of Former Mountaintop Removal Mining Sites Accountable For Ongoing Water Pollution
Many so called “reclaimed” MTR mine sites still polluting local waterways

HUNTINGTON, WV – The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Sierra Club filed litigation against three corporate owners of so-called “reclaimed” mountaintop removal mining sites in West Virginia. The groups claim that these sites, which still include valley fills, continue to discharge toxic pollutants – including selenium – and therefore violate protections against mining pollution under the Clean Water Act. The suits are directed at the current owners of “reclaimed” mine sites. The David L. Francis Trust owns property that contains portions of the "reclaimed" Sprouse Creek West Surface Mine. The Shepard Boone Coal Company LLC owns property that contains portions of the "reclaimed" Colony Bay Surface Mine. And the Pocahontas Land Corporation owns properties that contain portions of the "reclaimed" Pounding Mill No. 1 Surface Mine and Surface Mine No. 8. All of these sites have had their permits released under the Clean Water Act and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), but continue to discharge pollutants.

“Water pollution from mountaintop removal mining doesn’t end after the blasting stops,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Even after the mining companies close up shop local waterways and communities are still being hurt by their destructive practices. We know states like West Virginia won’t act to stop this growing problem, and that’s why it’s time for the EPA to take substantial action to end water pollution from surface mines.”

Valley fills are the primary source of water pollution from surface mines in Appalachia. When these mines cease operation, the valley fills remain intact. Because the ultimate source of the pollution is the valley fill material that remains on site, many abandoned and even so called “reclaimed” mine sites continue to discharge pollution, including selenium, at levels that harm water quality and aquatic life. In many cases, the owners of “reclaimed” mines do not have Clean Water Act permits that allow pollution to continue to flow from these sites, and federal and state regulators typically do not monitor the discharges from these former mine sites. 

“Preventing water pollution from any property is ultimately the responsibility of the land owner,” said Cindy Rank, Mining Committee Chair of WV Highlands Conservancy. “When that pollution is from old mine sites – abandoned or reclaimed – the responsibility falls to the coal company that mined in the first place, or the state in its stead if the site is eligible for reclamation using forfeited bond money, or whoever maintains ownership after the mining is done.” 

The sites that are named in the lawsuits were selected based on a number of factors, including water samples from streams below the sites that show elevated levels of selenium, the continued presence of mining waste in valley fills, and the absence of any other mines or likely sources of selenium upstream of the sampling point. All of the sampling was done from publically accessible locations.

“When you raze lush forests, blast the coal out of mountains and then dump the massive quantity of resulting waste into valleys, burying streams, the pollution you produce doesn’t magically disappear with the wave of a ‘reclamation’ wand,” said Vivian Stockman, Project Coordinator at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “What you are left with has been likened to lipstick on a corpse. Stream sampling indicates the corpse of MTR is leaching toxins into our waterways, in violation of the Clean Water Act, a law that is ultimately about protecting our communities.”

Even after a mine is reclaimed, valley fills continue to collect and channel water into local waterways. Valley fills are engineered with ditches on their surface and drains underneath; these ditches and drains are integral to the permanent structural stability of the fills, and so are not removed as part of mine reclamation. The ditches and drains convey and discharge water from discrete locations. Selenium, a toxic element that causes reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life, is discharged from many surface coal-mining operations across Appalachia. At very high levels, selenium can pose a risk to human health, causing hair and fingernail loss, kidney and liver damage, and damage to the nervous and circulatory systems.

“The water coming down from mountaintop removal sites doesn't get any cleaner just because the mining has stopped,” said Jim Sconyers, Chapter Chair of the West Virginia Sierra Club. “Corporate landowners must be held responsible for the pollution coming from these places. Just because the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection can’t make them clean up their acts doesn't mean they shouldn't.”   

This action was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and Sierra Club are represented in this matter by Joe Lovett, Derek Teaney, Mike Becher and Amy Vernon-Jones of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.



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