Coal Tattoo

Suing over selenium … again

Environmental groups have brought another in their series of lawsuits trying to force coal operators and regulators to take seriously the problems associated with selenium pollution from mining operations.

Vicki Smith at The Associated Press has the story about the new case filed by the Sierra Club and others:

Three environmental groups sued coal operator ICG Eastern in federal court Wednesday over a Webster County surface mine they say has been discharging toxic selenium into streams for years.

The Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy filed the case in U.S. District Court in Elkins over the Knight-Ink No. 1 mine. The complaint alleges violations of state and federal law, including the federal Clean Water Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

The complaint also claims state regulators have been lax in cracking down on ICG, allowing discharges into Big Beaver Creek, and two tributaries, Oldhe Fork and Board Fork, at levels above those designed to protect aquatic life. The mine is in east-central West Virginia, in a scenic, sparsely populated county that juts into the Monongahela National Forest.

I’ve posted the latest lawsuit here and you can click here to go back and read previous coverage of the selenium issue.

ICG officials told Vicki they were still reviewing the suit and had no immediate comment. In a press release, Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, one of the groups that brought the case, said:

If we don’t stop these illegal and harmful discharges of selenium now, we have only ourselves to blame for the destruction of our valuable water resources and for the long term liabilities that will be passed along to our children, grandchildren and future citizens of the state.

Interestingly, Vicki also reported:

DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said her agency is involved in more than a dozen selenium-discharge lawsuits with mining companies, including ICG Eastern. The DEP is in discussions with ICG about how to proceed, she said.

“Over the last four years, the state has assessed nearly $20 million in penalties against violators in the coal industry,” Cosco said, “and we believe that that would stack up fairly well if compared to other states taking action against a major industry.”

But it’s important to keep in mind that what these suits by environmental groups are really about is not assessing — or even collecting — monetary fines. What environmental groups are after is seeing actions taken to force coal operators to install treatment systems that would actually do the job of meeting the state’s water quality standards. For example, they’re looking for results like the one obtained in federal court before Judge Chambers: Patriot Coal spending $45 million to install and FBR treatment system at two of its mines.