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Judge Rules MTR Coal Mines Polluting West Virginia Waterways
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by Sierra Club Media Team | 2010

State’s efforts to help companies avoid penalties are invalid

Charleston, WV - A judge has found that Powellton Coal Company has repeatedly violated the law by polluting West Virginia waterways, and has ordered a trial to further investigate scores of additional violations at Powellton’s Bridge Fork mountaintop removal coal mining complex in Fayette County. Among those waterways polluted are the tributaries that feed the Gauley River, a world-class whitewater run and prime tourist destination.

The judge’s ruling came in response to a lawsuit brought by Sierra Club and the Ansted Historic Preservation Council. The judge also found that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) could not act to insulate the coal company from clean water regulations. The WVDEP had issued “modification orders” in an attempt to allow the company to continue polluting. Those orders were ruled invalid.

“There is something seriously wrong at WV-DEP” said Jim Kotcon, Energy Committee Chair for the WV Chapter of Sierra Club. “Citizens turn to DEP for help in protecting the environment, then must fight their own government agencies as DEP works to protect polluters.”

“Powellton knows about this pollution, but instead of paying to treat it at the source, they just pass the costs along to the public, to the people and communities that rely on these waters for their well-being,” said Jim Sconyers, WV Chapter Chair. “They view these violations as just the cost of doing business.”

“This (court ruling) is another important step forward in holding Powellton responsible for their clean water violations. Water is our most important resource,” said Katheryne Hoffman, president of the Ansted Historic Preservation Council. “For Fayette County, tourism is our economy. If they ruin these waters our future is gone. We have so much to offer and we need to protect that.”

The Ansted Historic Preservation Council and the Sierra Club challenged the Bridge Fork West mountaintop removal coal mine last year, raising serious concerns about the pollution from the mine’s valley fills and its impact on historic sites, local communities and tourist draws in the area. Pollution from the Bridge Fork mining complex has continually exceeded legal limits, leading to high levels of toxic aluminum, manganese and other pollution in nearby waterways. One of these waterways, which feed the Gauley River, is Rich Creek, well known for its trout fishing.

“Common sense tells us that dumping toxic aluminum into a renowned trout stream is bad,” said Sierra Club Environmental Justice organizer Bill Price. “We should be protecting these economic drivers, using these sources of tourism to build some much needed diversity into our economy, not sacrificing them to more coal mining.”

Aluminum pollution can sicken or kill fish. It can also lead to lower fish populations since eggs and larvae are more sensitive to aluminum pollution than mature fish.

The groups are represented in their efforts by Derek Teaney and Joe Lovett of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment.

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