HUNTINGTON – Three environmental groups have filed lawsuits against three owners of reclaimed mountaintop removal mining sites, claiming the sites are still discharging toxic pollutants.

In late May, lawsuits were filed against the trustee of the David L. Francis Testamentary Trust, Shepard Boone Coal Co. and Pocahontas Land Corporation that allege selenium discharges and violations under the Clean Water Act. They were filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.

The plaintiffs are the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Sierra Club.

“Water pollution from mountaintop removal mining doesn’t end after the blasting stops,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

“Even after the mining companies close up shop local waterways and communities are still being hurt by their destructive practices. We know states like West Virginia won’t act to stop this growing problem, and that’s why it’s time for the EPA to take substantial action to end water pollution from surface mines.”

The complaints were filed by Derek O. Teaney and Joseph M. Lovett of Appalachian Mountain Advocates in Lewisburg. They are directed at the current owners of reclaimed mountaintop removal sites.

The David L. Francis Trust owns property that contains portions of the reclaimed Sprouse Creek West Surface Mine, while the Shepard Boone Coal Co. owns portions of the reclaimed Colony Bay Surface Mine and the Pocahontas Land Corp. owns portions of the reclaimed Pounding Mill No. 1 Surface Mine and Surface Mine No. 8.

The groups say these sites have had their permits released under the Clean Water Act and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

At issue are valley fills, which are filled with the ultimate source of the pollution and remain after mines cease operation, the groups say.

“When you raze lush forests, blast the coal out of mountains and then dump the massive quantity of resulting waste into valleys, burying streams, the pollution you produce doesn’t magically disappear with the wave of a ‘reclamation’ wand,” said Vivian Stockman, Project Coordinator at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

“What you are left with has been likened to lipstick on a corpse. Stream sampling indicates the corpse of MTR is leaching toxins into our waterways, in violation of the Clean Water Act, a law that is ultimately about protecting our communities.”

The lawsuits seek orders declaring the defendants are in violation of the Clean Water Act and civil penalties of up to $37,500 per day for each CWA violation.

They also request the defendants conduct monitoring and sampling to determine the environmental effects, remedy and repair environmental contamination and restore the environment to its prior condition.

None of the defendants have filed an answer to the complaints yet.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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