UPDATED: Here’s a link to today’s Gazette story on yesterday’s hearing.
This afternoon in federal court in Huntington, lawyers, scientists and economists will debate deformed fish, water pollution treatment systems and compliance costs … It’s the first day of what is expected to be a week-long hearing that amounts to a major showdown over selenium discharges by surface coal mines in Appalachia.
U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers will be hearing testimony and legal arguments in a combined series of cases in which environmental groups — the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Sierra Club — are trying to force subsidiaries of Patriot Coal to comply with existing pollution limits for selenium.
The procedural history of these cases is a bit complicated, and I’m not going to go into any great detail. If you want more on that, I’d suggest checking out Judge Chambers’ own version of that history, starting on page 3 and then page 6 of his most recent selenium-related ruling.
Bottom line in that regard: Judge Chambers ruled back in June that one Patriot operation, the Hobet 21 complex along the Boone-Lincoln County border, continues to violate its selenium limits. The judge did not buy any of Patriot’s excuses, and was utterly unimpressed by the actions the WVDEP has taken to bring the mine’s discharge into compliance. But, the judge did not immediately outline the scope of what injunction he would issue, instead setting that matter for a hearing starting today.
That question has been combined with another case in which environmental groups want Patriot held in contempt for not — as promised in a consent decree — ending selenium violations at the Ruffner Mine in Logan County.
This whole selenium battle started back in 2003, when the broad federal government review of mountaintop removal turned up violations of selenium water quality standards. The following year, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report warned of more selenium problems downstream from major mining operations.