CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge on Tuesday held Patriot Coal in contempt of court and ordered the company to install equipment to clean up selenium pollution at two of its operations in Southern West Virginia.
U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers gave Patriot's Apogee Coal subsidiary 2 1/2 years to install treatment systems at its Ruffer Mine in Logan County and at the Hobet 21 complex along the Boone-Lincoln county border.
Chambers also ordered Patriot to post a $45 million letter of credit to ensure the treatment systems are installed and said he plans to appoint a special master to oversee the matter.
Ruling from the bench during an afternoon hearing in Huntington, Chambers sided with environmental groups who have been pushing for the coal industry to clean up selenium violations across the state's southern coalfields.
"This will be the first time selenium is treated in this state, and it should be a lesson to both the Department of Environmental Protection and the coal industry that it must be treated," said Margaret Janes, senior policy analyst for the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment. "The results of this case clearly show that the cost of mining high-selenium coal seams exceeds the profits."
Joe Lovett and Derek Teaney, lawyers from the center, had sued Patriot on behalf of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy over repeated selenium violations at the St. Louis-based company's mines.
Officials from Patriot could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday evening.
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 toxic.