Coal Tattoo


Late last week, West Virginia citizen groups filed an update to their petition asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency to take over Clean Water Act permitting and enforcement from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

As you recall, the original petition filed in May cited a variety of problems with the way DEP is handling its duty to protect West Virginia’s rivers and streams.

This supplemental petition is more narrowed in focus: It blames the death of Dunkard Creek from a massive fish kill on WVDEP’s inaction on longstanding coal industry pollution problems.

I’ve posted a copy of the supplemental petition here. It outlines WVDEP’s delays in dealing with water pollution violations by CONSOL Energy, a topic that I also discussed in some detail in a previous story for the Sunday Gazette-Mail, “30-mile fish kill at Dunkard Creek: DEP delayed action on pollution problems over the last decade.”

In short, the petition by the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment blames coal pollution for creating conditions that allowed toxic algae to spread in Dunkard Creek, wiping out the entire stream’s fish and mussel population:

The Dunkard Creek fish kill was caused diretly by West Virginia’s inadequate implementation and enforcement of its NPDES program … The state of West Virginia has known since at least 2002 that CONSOL has been discharging chlorides in concentrations causing water quality standards violations … Rather than requiring CONSOL comply with the chlorides water quality stnadard regardless of the cost — as required by the Clean Water Act — WVDEP endorsed CONSOL’s continued delay.

This time, compliance schedule abuse has also led to an environmental catastrophe — the extirpation of aquatic life from Dunkard Creek … Moreover, WVDEP has identified 20 other waters in West Virginia with conditions conducive to golden algae blooms — conditions that have developed as a result of WVDEP’s lax ovesight.

If ever a state’s failures should lead to the withdrawal of its NPDES permitting program, these are the appropriate circumstances.

WVDEP officials have indicated that what happened at Dunkard Creek may cause them to revisit some of their policies about waiving pollution guidelines, granting compliance delays, and not writing stream cleanup plans for certain coal-related pollutants.

Of course, that comes too late for Dunkard Creek. And the supplemental petition filed with EPA argues that WVDEP hasn’t really learned a lesson, citing efforts by the agency to extend compliance deadlines for Hobet Mining to clean up selenium discharges that are toxic to aquatic life. According to the petition:

… WVDEP has proven that it has learned nothing from the Dunkard Creek disaster … Leaving WVDEP in charge of the protection of West Virginia’s aquatic resources presents unacceptable risks to the environment.