Groups Trying to Enforce Clean Water Act

By John McFerrin

The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has joined with the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Appalachian Voices, and the Sierra Club in a notice of intent to sue to the parent companies operating 15 coal facilities — including mines, preparation and processing facilities, and a power plant — and one chloride plant alleging violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).  The letter informs the companies that the groups believe that the companies are in violation of conditions of their permits. If the violations are not corrected by the end of sixty days, the groups will take legal action.

Under the federal and state Clean Water Act, these companies were issued permits that allow them to discharge water with limited amounts of pollutants.  A permit might say, for example, that the water leaving the site may contain up to 3 parts per million of iron, .5 parts per million of aluminum, etc. If the concentrations are greater, then the company is in violation.

At this point, referring to the violations as “alleged violations” is just a formality.  The way the system works, companies are required to sample the water leaving their operations and report the results to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.  Some grumble that having companies do their own sampling and reporting is the fox guarding the chicken house.  When, as here, that sampling shows violations, the proof (moving from alleged to proven) is much more straightforward.  The companies can hardly deny the violations; it’s their data.

Some of the violations alleged are dramatic.  One facility, the Harrison County Coal Mine, operated by Murray Energy, is discharging 220 times its permitted limit of aluminum into tributaries of the West Fork and Ohio Rivers. Another facility, the Red Fox Mine in McDowell County, is discharging twice as much selenium and 10 times as much aluminum as it is permitted into the Tug Fork River. That mine is owned by a subsidiary of the Justice Group, which is controlled by the family of West Virginia Governor Jim Justice.

If the companies do not correct the problems within 60 days the groups will sue them in federal court.  There the companies face the possibility (and given the source of the data that establishes the violations, the probability) of orders to correct the problems and civil penalties.

The groups are represented by attorneys with Appalachian Mountain Advocates and Public Justice.

The Miscreants (alleged)


  • Marshall County Mine/ Conner Run Impoundment
  • Arkwright Mine #1
  • Marion County Mine (Loveridge)
  • Harrison County Mine


  • Ike Fork #2 Surface Mine
  • Taywood West Surface Mine
  • Peg Fork Surface Mine
  • Peachorchard Surface Mine No. 5


  • Low Gap Surface Mine #2
  • Red Fox Surface Mine


  • Grant Town Power PlantMEPCO INC.
  • Dana Prime #1 Deep Mine


  • Laxare East Surface Mine


  • Eagle Natrium


  • Renton (Pennsylvania)
  • Robena (Pennsylvania)

Cliché Alert

The adjoining story uses the old phrase “the fox guarding the chicken house.”  Some think the phrase goes back at least to 1580.

For nearly 500 years we have been using “the fox guarding the chicken house” to describe a situation in which a job is assigned to someone who will then be in a position to exploit it for his own ends.

Phrases, like anything else, get worn out from overuse. Is it time for a change?  Is there another phrase that would be fresher, more descriptive?

If you have an idea, please pass it along.  Then I will have something to use in spots when I might be tempted to grab the old fox and henhouse cliché.