Groups Sue Mine Over Ongoing Pollution

By John McFerrin

            The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has joined with the Kanawha Forest Coalition and Appalachian Voices in a suit against Keystone West Virginia over its operation of strip mines near Kanawha State Forest.  The active mining on the site has ceased but the pollution continues.

            The pollutants involved are iron, aluminum, manganese, selenium, suspended solids, and pH. The mine also discharged high levels of ionic pollutants measured as conductivity and total dissolved solids. They are being illegally discharged primarialy to Rush Creek, the Right Fork of Rush Creek, and unnamed tributaries of Rush Creek.  All are in Kanawha County.

The way things are supposed to work

            Mines are required by the federal and state Clean Water Acts and the West Virginia Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act to have permits to mine.  These permits set limits upon the quality of the water that leaves the site.  Typically, permits require that water leave the site only at specified points.  They require that the water leaving the site have only so many parts per million of iron, so many parts per million of aluminum, etc.  The permits set the limits low enough that the streams the water flows to are not damaged.

The way things worked (didn’t work) here

            Permits for these mines were originally issued in 2006.  Since then there have been, along with the mining, some legal twists and turns—permits revoked for repeated violations, permits reinstated, a bankruptcy, a transfer of permits to another company, a permit that expired.

            Through all of this, the pollution continued.  The pollution comes from rainfall and groundwater that passes through and leaves the mine site.  Even though the mine is no longer active, rain still falls and groundwater is still present.  The pollution continues.  

What the plaintiffs want

            The Complaint asks that the Court require the defendants to comply with the Clean Water Act and the West Virginia Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act.  This would include getting the proper permits and, more importantly, controlling the pollution that is leaving the site.  The Complaint also asks that the Court impose appropriate penalties.