By Cindy Rank
A great number of mining and water related legal challenges pursued by WV Highlands Conservancy over the past 20-30 years have aimed at curtailing the pollution emanating from mines throughout the state.
As large scale and Mountaintop Removal Mines continued to be permitted, WVHC – together with co-plaintiff groups OVEC, Sierra, WV Rivers –successfully challenged many individual operations that were violating requirements of federal and state law with regard to unpermitted discharges of selenium and other constituents that cause biological impairment of local streams.
Many of those actions resulted in settlement agreements that directed substantial amounts of money to non-profit organizations whose goals involve protecting West Virginia land and water resources, preventing further pollution, and increasing awareness of the importance of these resources.
Our legal representatives (e.g. lawyers with Appalmad, Public Justice and the Sierra Club) have won precedent-setting court cases and negotiated costly settlements that require companies to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars towards conserving natural areas and treating polluted water. To date funds have gone to the West Virginia Land Trust, the Land Use and Sustainability Law Clinic at WV University School of Law, and most recently to the newly established non-profit Appalachian Headwaters.
Substantial amounts of funding have given the West Virginia Land Trust a needed boost and have enabled the organization to grow its staff and significantly increase the number of acres of land it now protects (currently over 10,000 acres), creating outdoor recreation opportunities, safeguarding drinking water supplies, protecting scenic views, preserving historic sites and family farms. https://www.wvlandtrust.org/
The WVU Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic partners with the Land Trust on land conservation initiatives and works with other non-profits and government agencies on land transactions, facilitating conservation of hundreds of acres of land. Working in five counties, legal services include title examinations, contract drafting, drafting of title opinions and negotiations. https://landuse.law.wvu.edu/about
Appalachian Headwaters is a 501(c)(3) organization begun in 2016 to develop sustainable economic opportunities while restoring damaged ecosystems in central Appalachia. Specifically, the organization is working to restore productive native hardwood forests and improve water quality on former surface mine sites in the region. Its Appalachian Beekeeping Collective and Native Plant Horticulture Initiative programs focus on teaching and supporting people in the region as they learn to participate in growth industries. It is also working to help displaced or underemployed workers to earn income while repairing our natural environment. A new program started last year is Camp Waldo, a summer camp for youth located in Summers County, WV on the banks of the Greenbrier River. www.campwaldo.org and https://appheadwaters.org/