Mining Company Must Pay for West Virginia Water Pollution
Public Justice settlement could lead to stricter federal regulation of “minefills”
A U.S. District Court judge has approved a settlement between environmental activists represented by Public Justice, and Coresco, Inc. that could influence federal regulators preparing to make effective rules on the disposal of coal ash that is polluting streams across America.
The settlement regarding water pollution stems from Coresco’s method of coal ash disposal at its dump near Morgantown, W. Va. The settlement requires Coresco to provide ongoing treatment of the water in Craft’s Run, the stream that was made bright orange, acidic, and dead because of seeping minerals from Coresco’s adjacent “minefill.”
A minefill is a depository for coal ash – a toxic byproduct of burning coal – that is similar to a landfill but is allowed to operate with less strict safeguards against pollution under current rules. Public Justice Environmental Enforcement Project Staff Attorney Richard Webster, co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the case, The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and The Sierra Club, says that it is time for the federal government to adopt regulations that will prevent seepages from minefills.
“The state regulations on this type of disposal are clearly not working,” he said. “Specifically, we would like the federal Office of Surface Mining to adopt a rule that requires effective off-site monitoring, so if the pollution control system fails, there’s a response.
“Because minefills are very similar to landfills, they should be operated with similar controls.”
The extraordinary damage to Craft’s Run was documented in a blog post by Webster earlier this fall. Webster wrote that upon visiting Craft’s Run for the first time, both the harm to the stream and its source were obvious to him:
The baseline data for the expansion showed that the water quality in the stream was fine in the headwaters but became more and more polluted as it passed the coal ash dump and mine seeps. By the lower reaches, the stream was totally dead, highly acidic, and bright orange with iron, which is toxic to fish.
Webster is glad that this settlement will bring Craft’s Run back to life, and notes the importance of this litigation generating a body of data on the effect of minefilling as the federal committee is developing new rules.
“The coal ash rules, coming out in December, could make coal ash disposal in impoundments a thing of the past, and that’s going to drive a lot of coal ash disposal to other methods, like these minefills,” Webster said. “We’re trying to be one step ahead, by making sure that the minefill method is as safe as possible, since it is likely to become more common soon as an alternative to impoundments.”
The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy v. Coresco case is part of Public Justice’s Coal Ash Litigation Project, which protects communities and wildlife from toxic pollution, and forces coal companies to confront and pay the full cost of the damage they do.