Coal Company Held in Contempt

By John McFerrin

Lexington Coal Company has been held in contempt for its failure to comply with previous Court orders to clean up its selenium violations at its Mingo County mine.

This litigation originated in 2019 when several environmental groups—including the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy—sued Lexington Coal, alleging that it was violating the selenium limits in its Clean Water Act NPDES permits and conditions of Surface Mine Act (SMCRA).  

In March, 2021, the Court held that the company is liable for selenium and ionic pollution violations.  At a later time, it ordered the company to come up with a plan for correcting the violations and set a time limit for submitting that plan.

The company submitted a plan; the Court found that it was inadequate and set a time limit for a new plan.

Now the time limit has come and gone and the company has not submitted a plan.  In response to this failure, the Court required that the company submit the plan within ten days.  If it does not, it will be required to pay a fine of $1,000 per day until the plan is submitted.

Note:  If this story sounds familiar, it should.  While this may be the first such story about this particular mine, it is similar to dozens of stories about other mines that have appeared in The Highlands Voice:  Mine is in violation.  Groups sue.  Time passes, often a lot of time.  Company is ordered to clean up.  This one has the added wrinkle that, even after the Order, the company still does not clean up.  The stories are so depressingly similar that, were I a clever young person instead of a set in his ways old geezer, I would program a robot to write them.  Cumulatively they demonstrate what a long, hard slog is involved in getting old mines cleaned up.  “Step by step, the longest march can be won, can be won” (from the preamble to the constitution of the first mineworkers union in the US, written in 1870. Later set to music by Pete Seeger).