April 27, 2010
Contacts: Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club, 512-477-2152
Dianne Bady, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, 304-360-2072
Cindy Rank, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, 304-924-5802
Judy Bonds, Coal River Mountain Watch, 304-854-2182
Massey Energy Faces Legal Challenge for Clean Water Act Violations
Over 3,000 Days of Permit Violations in 21 Months Reflect Pattern of Illegal Pollution
Charleston, WV -- The Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy took legal action today with representation from Earthjustice to hold five coal companies -- all subsidiaries of Massey Energy -- accountable for thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act and surface mining laws associated with the mining operations of its subsidiaries in West Virginia.
"Massey puts profits before people in communities," said Judy Bonds of Coal River Mountain Watch. "Massey is an outlaw company that continues to show contempt for the people of Appalachia."
The groups are pursuing Massey (America's fourth largest coal company) and its subsidiaries in court in the Southern District of West Virginia for allegedly violating permit limits by dumping toxic aluminum into waterways from as many as 16 mines covered by seven Clean Water Act permits in West Virginia. Very high aluminum levels can be toxic to fish and other aquatic life and have been linked to bone and brain diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s disease, and studies show that high aluminum levels pose high risks for people living with kidney disease.
The Massey subsidiaries involved are the Elk Run Coal Company, Independence Coal Company, Marfork Coal Company, Peerless Eagle Coal Company, and Power Mountain Coal Company. Some of the mines are also violating permit limits for other pollutants including iron, pH, and suspended solids. In total, these mines racked up approximately 3,300 days of permit violations in the period from April 2008 through December 2009. All of these violations appear to be ongoing.
"Massey's water violations seem as widespread as their safety violations," said Dianne Bady, Co-Director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in Huntington, West Virginia. "This lawsuit is a part of our larger efforts to protect human health in the coalfields."
In January 2008, Massey agreed to pay $20 million in penalties to settle claims brought by the federal government over pollution from its coal mines in West Virginia and Kentucky. The government had identified over 60,000 days of violation during the period from January of 2000 through March of 2006.
"It’s high time Massey started paying the costs of its coal operations," said Jim Sconyers, Chair of the Sierra Club's West Virginia Chapter. "Our streams and communities are sick of having Massey pass the costs of coal mining on as toxic pollution."
"It appears even previous large fines have done little to deter Massey from its ongoing reprehensible violations of the Clean Water Act," said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. "If it weren't so outrageous we all could sit back and let the children of tomorrow deal with the problems and live with the polluted waters that this company will leave in its wake. But it is outrageous and illegal to boot."
A copy of the filing can be found here.