Coal Tattoo


The Sierra Club and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy just announced that they plan to sue CONSOL Energy to try to force the company to “stop releasing harmful pollution” into Dunkard Creek. According to a news release issued by the groups:

Consol’s own instream monitoring data show that for years chloride pollution from its operations has exceeded water quality standards. That pollution contributed to a toxic golden algae bloom that killed nearly all the aquatic life in a 35-mile stretch of Dunkard Creek last year on the Pennsylvania border with northern West Virginia.

This formal “notice of intent to sue” comes after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection blamed CONSOL’s mine discharges for the destruction of Dunkard Creek last fall.

In the legal notice, which I’ve posted here, the citizen groups note that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection authorized CONSOL’s pollution, repeatedly giving the Pittsburgh-based coal giant more time to clean up its discharges. (For more on that issue, check this long Sunday piece I did last fall and this blog post about the looming problem of conductivity water quality problems related to the coal industry).

Jim Kotcon, energy chairman for the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, said:

… The compliance order issued by WVDEP continues a pattern by WVDEP of being too cozy with the industries they are supposed to be regulating. WVDEP did not consult with the public nor did they adequately protect the aquatic life in Dunkard Creek. CONSOL has been given one extension after another to comply with the Clean Water Act, and it appears that WVDEP is more concerned with protecting the industry than with protecting the environment.

And Cindy Rank, mining chairwoman for the Highlands Conservancy, said:

It was only a matter of time before discharges from flooded deep mines in northern West Virginia would contribute to a disaster like the one visited upon Dunkard Creek last fall. In allowing CONSOL to violate water quality standards in the past five years, WVDEP was short sighted to say the least.

Extending that permission after the Dunkard Creek event is unacceptable. It’s sad that citizens groups must end up being the backstop for enforcing the law.

In their press release, the citizen groups said:

Chloride pollution can cause elevated conductivity in waters. Among other environmental impacts, elevated conductivity makes streams and creek vulnerable to algae blooms and fish kills like the one in Dunkard Creek last year. Experts say the Dunkard Creek incident should be a warning: Residents can expect to see more golden algae blooms and other damaging effects to stream life across Appalachia, as many other streams in the region already show high levels of conductivity.

Jim Hecker, environmental enforcement director at Public Justice, is representing the citizen groups along with Derek Teaney of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment. Hecker said:

The recent Dunkard Creek fish kill was the same wake-up call for the coal industry that the Exxon Valdez spill was for the oil industry.