Conservationists Sue Massey Coal for Water Pollution at Five Mines

CHARLESTON, West Virginia, April 27, 2010 (ENS) – Four conservation groups took legal action today to hold five coal companies, all subsidiaries of Massey Energy, accountable for thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act and surface mining laws associated with mining operations in West Virginia.

The Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy filed a citizen enforcement action under the Clean Water Act and Surface Mining Reclamation Act to force the coal companies to comply with their permits and stop polluting West Virginia waterways.

“Massey puts profits before people in communities,” said Judy Bonds of Coal River Mountain Watch. “Massey is an outlaw company that continues to show contempt for the people of Appalachia.”

Represented by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice, the groups are pursuing Massey and its subsidiaries in federal court in the Southern District of West Virginia for allegedly violating permit limits by dumping toxic aluminum into waterways from as many as 16 mines covered by seven Clean Water Act permits.

Polluted water runs from a coal mine outfall, not one of the mines sued today. (Photo by Matt Noerpel courtesy Coal River Mountain Watch)

Very high aluminum levels can be toxic to fish and other aquatic life and have been linked to bone and brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and studies show that high aluminum levels pose high risks for people living with kidney disease.

America’s fourth largest coal company, Massey Energy is the company whose subsidiary Performance Coal owns the Upper Big Branch mine where 29 miners died earlier this month. Performance Coal is not among the Massey subsidiaries named in this lawsuit.

The Massey subsidiaries named are the Elk Run Coal Company and Independence Coal Company in Boone County, and Marfork Coal Company in Raleigh Country, as well as Peerless Eagle Coal Company and Power Mountain Coal Company, both in Nicholas County.

In addition to aluminum, the lawsuit alleges that some of the mines are also violating permit limits for other pollutants including iron, acidity and suspended solids.

In total, these mines racked up approximately 3,300 days of permit violations in the period from April 2008 through December 2009. All of these violations appear to be ongoing, the conservation groups allege.

The groups are seeking fines against the Massey subsidiaries of up to $32,500 per day for each violation that occurred on or before January 12, 2009, and $37,500 per day for each violation that occurred thereafter – penalties that could rise into the millions of dollars.

In January 2008, Massey agreed to pay $20 million in penalties to settle claims brought by the federal government over pollution from its coal mines in West Virginia and Kentucky. The government had identified over 60,000 days of violation during the period from January of 2000 through March of 2006.

“It’s high time Massey started paying the costs of its coal operations,” said Jim Sconyers, who chairs the Sierra Club’s West Virginia Chapter. “Our streams and communities are sick of having Massey pass the costs of coal mining on as toxic pollution.”

The lawsuit claims that members of the plaintiff groups suffer injuries to their aesthetic, recreational, environmental, and economic interests as a result of the coal companies’ unlawful discharges of pollutants.

“It appears even previous large fines have done little to deter Massey from its ongoing reprehensible violations of the Clean Water Act,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “If it weren’t so outrageous we all could sit back and let the children of tomorrow deal with the problems and live with the polluted waters that this company will leave in its wake. But it is outrageous and illegal to boot.”

“Massey’s water violations seem as widespread as their safety violations,” said Dianne Bady, co-director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in Huntington, West Virginia. “This lawsuit is a part of our larger efforts to protect human health in the coalfields.”

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