RICHMOND, Va. -– Patriot Coal owners decided not to resist U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers as he carries out a $45 million plan to clean water from their mines.

They moved to dismiss an appeal of his Sept. 1 order finding them in contempt of a consent decree, and Fourth District judges granted the motion on Nov. 10.

Chambers wrote in October that he held Patriot subsidiaries Apogee Coal and Hobet Mining in contempt for lack of focus and diligence in reducing selenium discharges.

"Defendant dug itself into a hole such that complying with the consent decree became impossible," he wrote.

He required a $45 million letter of credit, and Apogee and Hobet provided it.

They appealed on Oct. 19, but changed their minds after Chambers appointed James Kyles to run the project as special master.

Chambers endowed Kyles with sweeping power to inspect mines, review proposals, and oversee compliance with schedules and guidelines.

At least once a week Kyles will lead a telephone conference with lawyers for Patriot and nature groups that signed the consent decree.

He can talk to Chambers whenever he wishes, without lawyers listening.

Chambers signed the consent decree last year, apparently resolving claims of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

This year, Apogee and Hobet moved to modify the decree and the nature groups moved for a contempt order.

Chambers held trial in August, and at the end the lawyers said they could resolve it.

They didn't, and Chambers granted the contempt motion.

After Apogee and Hobet appealed, he wrote a long order finding that selenium impacts reproduction of aquatic species, impairs development and survival of fish, and damages gills and other organs.

"It can also be toxic to humans, causing kidney and liver damage, and damage to the nervous and circulatory systems," he wrote.

He ordered Apogee and Hobet to install specific treatment systems by 2013.

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