Dangers of Conductivity Pollution to Streams Affirmed in Yet Another Major WV Court Ruling

Contact:
Adam Beitman, Sierra Club, (202) 670-5585, adam.beitman@sierraclub.org
Liz Wiles, West Virginia Sierra Club, 304 212-4855, liz_wiles@comcast.net
Cindy Rank, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, 304-924-5802, clrank2@gmail.com
Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, 304-522-0246, vivian@ohvec.org

Dangers of Conductivity Pollution to Streams Affirmed in Yet Another Major WV Court Ruling
Fola Coal Company’s Conductivity Pollution Found to Violate Clean Water Act Protections

Huntington, WV – The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia has, once again, found that conductivity pollution from a mountaintop removal mine violated key clean water protections. This decision follows on the heels of a similar decision from June 2014 that also found that high conductivity discharges from coal mines harm streams. That decision, against Alpha Natural Resources subsidiaries, led to a December 2014 settlement expected to result in active treatment of conductivity pollution for the first time.

Today’s citizen lawsuit, originally filed in March 2013, alleged that mine runoff from a Fola Coal operation in Clay and Nicholas Counties, West Virginia, contaminated water in Stillhouse Branch with sulfate and other ionic pollutants that make those waterways toxic to stream life. The citizen groups that brought this case claimed that the mines were violating “narrative” water quality standards established in the Clean Water Act, which prohibit water pollution that causes harm to stream life or has significant adverse impacts on streams. This suit was brought by citizen groups including the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Sierra Club and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

“This decision further confirms what the science overwhelmingly demonstrates: that coal mines across Appalachia are harming streams due to conductivity pollution,” said Liz Wiles, Chair of the West Virginia Sierra Club. “The court’s ruling further underscores the ongoing failure of West Virginia regulators to respond to this crisis. We need action – from the states and from EPA – to protect our streams.”

The court found that there are significant levels of conductivity downstream from Fola Coal’s mining operation. The court also found that mining activities cause this conductivity pollution and that conductivity in streams below these mines can be as much as 10 times above safe levels for local stream life. Compliance with narrative water standards is typically determined by taking field measurements of the number and diversity of aquatic life in the stream, rather than by only measuring the amount of chemicals in the discharged water. The streams affected by the water pollution in this case were found to have significant damage to stream life compared to unpolluted streams.

“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,” said Cindy Rank of the WV Highlands Conservancy. “Today’s 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 Stillhouse Branch.”
“Over and over we see our state DEP failing to enforce standards and laws that are written to ensure mountaintop removal coal mining corporations don’t get away with treating our streams like dumps,” said Vivian Stockman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “Fortunately, we have the Clean Water Act, which allows citizen groups to step up and defend our water. We have no chance to build a better future if we don’t have clean water.”

The next step in the case will be to determine the appropriate remedies for these permit violations, in the form of civil penalties payable to the U.S. Treasury and injunctive relief to clean up the streams. Citizen groups West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Sierra Club and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition are represented in this case by attorneys with Public Justice and Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

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