HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Patriot Coal should be forced to cease stalling efforts to stop exceeding water pollution limits for toxic selenium at its mountaintop-removal mining operations in Southern West Virginia, a federal judge was told Monday.
Lawyers for a citizens group urged U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers to set binding timelines and force Patriot to put up a $95 million letter of credit to ensure it cleans up it discharges.
Joe Lovett, lawyer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said Patriot's mines "are in exactly the same place today they were two years ago," when Chambers demanded a compliance plan.
Patriot attorney Thomas Hurney asked Chambers to give the company more time. He said the company has "made great strides" at fixing a new pollution problem and is "at the forefront of the coal industry on this."
"Were we perfect? No. But I suggest to you that you won't find any other company that has done as much as Patriot," Hurney said.
Lovett and Hurney made their statements at the start of a weeklong trial that is expected to be a major showdown in the legal fight over coal mining and selenium.
In the hearing, Chambers has combined two ongoing cases against St. Louis-based Patriot Coal Corp. over selenium discharges from its mines in Southern West Virginia.
One case concerns continuing selenium violations at Patriot's Hobet 21 complex along the Boone-Lincoln county border. In June, Chambers ruled against the company regarding Hobet 21, but did not immediately say what Patriot must do about the problem.
The other case concerns Patriot's Ruffner Mine in Logan County. Environmentalists want the judge to hold the company in contempt for not meeting a court-approved April deadline for cleaning up that operation's selenium discharges.
Selenium, a naturally occurring element found in many rocks and soils, is an antioxidant needed in very small amounts for good health. In slightly larger amounts, selenium can be very toxic.