Four Coal, Chemical Companies Sued for Clean Water Act Violations

By Kate Mishkin

One of Gov. Jim Justice’s family mines is violating the Clean Water Act and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, a coalition of environmental groups said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The lawsuit, filed against Bluestone Coal Corporation, says the company is discharging pollutants into water near the Red Fox Surface Mine in McDowell County, violating federal water quality and surface mining laws. Specifically, the company is accused of discharging too much iron, selenium and aluminum.

“As a result, the environmental, aesthetic, and recreational interests of these members are adversely affected by Bluestone’s excessive discharge of pollutants,” the lawsuit against the Justice family’s Bluestone Coal Corporation and filed U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, says.

The suit comes almost two months after the company was first warned by the environmental groups that Red Fox Mine was repeatedly violating the Clean Water Act and its state Department of Environmental Protection permit. Red Fox Mine was also violating the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, state Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act and state mining permit, the letter, dated June 4, said.

The groups warned that the company had 60 days to stop violating those permits, or else they’d bring a citizen lawsuit against Bluestone.

Over the next 60 days, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Surface Mine Reclamation and Enforcement and West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection didn’t do anything about the violations or penalize the company, the lawsuit states.

The environmental groups also warned other companies, including Consol and Murray American Energy, that they were also violating the Clean Water Act and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Tuesday, the group sued Lexington Coal, Dana Mining Company, Eagle Natrium and Bluestone Coal, all for Clean Water Act violations in West Virginia’s rivers.

“For too long, coal companies have done business at the expense of clean water and the health and well-being of people living near mines,” Erin Savage, central Appalachian program manager said in a statement. “We’re ensuring that coal companies are held accountable for the water they pollute, so that they cannot leave the problem behind for local communities.”

The governor’s office directed questions to a spokesman for the company.

“This is a frivolous lawsuit brought by activist organizations who ultimately want to close West Virginia coal mines and put miners out of work,” a spokesman for Bluestone said Tuesday evening. “Bluestone has been operating under a EPA Consent decree since 2016, is in compliance under the terms set out in the decree and is proud to support dozens of jobs at the Red Fox mine.”

The Department of Environmental Protection did not respond to requests for comment.

The groups are asking that Bluestone pay a civil penalty of up to $54,800 per day for each Clean Water Act violation, comply with its permits and that the court grant an injunction that would prevent Bluestone from continuing to operate the mines and violate its permits.

Notes:  This story originally appeared in The Charleston Gazette.  This is the same controversy that was reported on in the July, 2019, issue of The Highlands Voice.  That story said that the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy had joined in a notice to the companies that they were violating the Clean Water Act and that, if they did not fix things, the groups would sue. Sharp eyed readers may notice that the list of companies in the July story includes more companies than this story says were sued.  For the others in the July story, there may be details to be finalized or discussions going on.  These are just the first, but not the last, to be filed as official complaints.