The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the Sierra Club, and the West Virginia Rivers Coalition have made an agreement with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection that moves seven former mine sites closer to compliance with water protection laws. This puts the mines one step closer to stopping the ongoing pollution that is coming from those sites.
Before they begin mining, companies are required to post a bond to assure that the site will be reclaimed when the mining is over. If the company goes out of business, disappears, etc. then the Department of Environmental Protection forfeits the bond and completes the reclamation. When it does this, it becomes responsible for the site.
That is what happened to seven mine sites in in Barbour, Nicholas, and Preston counties. The DEP forfeited the bonds and assumed responsibility for the sites. There continues to be, however, aluminum, iron, nitrogen ammonia, and suspended solids coming from the site and degrading the nearby streams.
To address this, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the Sierra Club, and the West Virginia Rivers Coalition sued the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.
The parties have now reached a settlement in which the DEP agrees to install necessary equipment, etc. by a fixed date and achieve compliance with the water pollution laws by a fixed date.
The bottom line is that the sites are still not in compliance and the streams are still being degraded. The settlement is still a good thing because it puts us on a path to compliance. In theory, DEP had these obligations from the moment that it assumed responsibility for the mines. In actual practice, it needs deadlines, a court Order, and the power of the federal court to enforce that Order if it does not meet the deadlines.
Such is the nature of environmental protection laws. Nothing good happens overnight. Yet inch by inch things move forward. This is another step.