April 16, 2012
First West Virginia Mountaintop Removal Site Still Polluting Local Rivers
Groups Move to Protect Water Ways and Communities from "Reclaimed" Site
Charleston, WV – Today a coalition of concerned groups took action to protect water ways impacted by the inactive and allegedly reclaimed Bullpush Mountain mine in Kanawha and Fayette Counties in southwestern West Virginia. Water monitoring conducted by the groups has revealed that the mine is still discharging dangerous levels of selenium. The groups’ lawsuit alleges that the current land owner, Boone East Development Company, has violated the Clean Water Act due to unpermitted discharges of selenium and conductivity from the "reclaimed" Bullpush Mountain site. The groups bringing today’s lawsuit are the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.
The mine began in 1970 and was the first mountain top removal site in West Virginia. The company which began the project, Cannelton Industries Inc, believed that once it had finished mining the site people would move on to the mountain and a new community would grow. It never happened. Mining has ended and reclamation was completed in 2008. Today, the site is flat, empty and open; and it’s still polluting the local rivers and streams that local residents rely on.
"We cannot allow these coal companies and the WV Department of Environmental Protection to make a mockery of so-called reclamation," said Jim Sconyers, Director of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. "This 'historic' mountaintop removal operation keeps on giving - giving harmful and dangerous pollution into our streams. And it's no surprise to regulators, who could have told anyone decades ago that this is the predictable outcome of burying the stream under millions of tons of debris."
Selenium, a toxic element that causes reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life, is discharged from many surface coal mining operations across Appalachia, and is also commonly found in coal combustion byproducts like coal ash. The data collected by the groups shows that traditional mine "reclamation" does not end discharges of this toxic pollutant. Selenium bio-accumulates in the tissues of aquatic organisms, and experts predict that waterways across Appalachia could be on the brink of collapse due to increasing levels of the pollutant.
"It’s past time for all involved to recognize that ‘reclamation’ means more than just putting the land back in some stable and usable fashion," said Cindy Rank, Chairperson of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy’s Mining Committee. "Assuring that reclaimed mine sites don’t pollute our water resources continues to be a responsibility of the land owner – whether that be the coal company that mined in the first place or whoever maintains ownership after the mining is done."
Across central Appalachia more than 500 mountains and summits have been destroyed by mountain top removal mining. The practice has damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams and threatens to destroy 1.4 million acres of mountaintops and forests by 2020. The mining poisons drinking water, destroys beautiful forests and wildlife habitat, increases the risk of flooding and wipes out entire communities.
"This decades-old valley fill on a mountaintop removal mine site, which has undergone so-called reclamation, is still polluting the streams," said Vivian Stockman, Project Coordinator for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "Coal companies and those who lease them land just don’t care about the long-term damage mountaintop removal inflicts upon our lands, our waters, our health and our communities. It would seem the DEP doesn’t care either, as the agency blithely allows the violations to continue."
The groups filed their lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, and are represented by Jim Hecker with Public Justice, and by Joe Lovett and Derek Teaney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
Contacts: Jim Sconyers, West Virginia Sierra Club, 304 698-9628 firstname.lastname@example.org
Sean Sarah, Sierra Club, 202 548-4589 email@example.com
Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, 304 360-1979 firstname.lastname@example.org
Cindy Rank, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, 304 924-5802 email@example.com