Trials planned over selenium discharges at Patriot mines

By Steve Korris | Aug 6, 2010

HUNTINGTON – U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers planned to hold two trials and a hearing on water pollution claims against Patriot Coal this Monday, Aug. 9.

In all three cases, the national Sierra Club and local nature groups seek to reduce selenium discharges at Patriot mines.

The national Clean Water Act allows citizens to file enforcement suits in the absence of diligent enforcement by government.

The Sierra Club has filed five federal suits against Patriot subsidiaries in three years and two against Massey Energy subsidiaries this year.

West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and Coal River Mountain Watch have sued along with the club.

In a three-year-old case Chambers set for trial this week, the nature groups claim Patriot subsidiary Apogee Coal hasn't lived up to a consent decree from last year.

They moved to find Apogee Coal in contempt, enforce the decree, and require compliance with water quality permits.

Apogee Coal claimed its discharges caused no harm, and the nature groups answered that harm was irrelevant.

Chambers split his decision, holding evidence of harm irrelevant to the contempt motion but relevant to the enforcement of the decree and the scope of relief.

"The Court will hear evidence regarding harm only insofar as it relates to the specific outfalls and receiving watersheds at issue, but will not allow the parties to argue as to the merits of existing water quality standards," he wrote on July 27.

He also planned a trial starting Monday on a dispute over another consent decree that Patriot subsidiary Hobet Mining signed last year.

He planned a hearing on injunctive relief in another suit against Hobet Mining, seeking to enforce a consent decree from Boone County circuit court.

Chambers also presides over three selenium suits the nature groups filed in June, two against Patriot subsidiaries and one against a Massey Energy subsidiary.

In Charleston, U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver presides over a Sierra Club suit against Massey subsidiaries over aluminum discharges.

Massey has moved to take the selenium suit against it away from Chambers and consolidate it with the aluminum suit in Copenhaver's court.

The nature groups oppose consolidation, arguing that selenium suits belong with Chambers.

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