MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Three environmental groups sued coal operator ICG Eastern in federal court Wednesday over a Webster County surface mine they say has been discharging toxic selenium into streams for years.
The Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy filed the case in U.S. District Court in Elkins over the Knight-Ink No. 1 mine. The complaint alleges violations of state and federal law, including the federal Clean Water Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
The complaint also claims state regulators have been lax in cracking down on ICG, allowing discharges into Big Beaver Creek, and two tributaries, Oldhe Fork and Board Fork, at levels above those designed to protect aquatic life. The mine is in east-central West Virginia, in a scenic, sparsely populated county that juts into the Monongahela National Forest.
ICG Eastern, which produced 2.5 million tons of coal in 2009 according to its website, is a subsidiary of International Coal Group Inc. of Scott Depot. Spokesman Ross Mazza said ICG has not yet reviewed the complaint and could not immediately comment.
Selenium is a naturally occurring element that surface mining can release into waterways. Studies have found it's toxic to aquatic life. In humans, high-level exposure can damage the kidneys, liver, and central nervous and circulatory systems.
"The coal companies' behavior is just the same old story. The companies want us to pay -- through harm to aquatic life and risk to human health -- for their illegal pollution,'' said Jim Sconyers, chairman of the Sierra Club's state chapter. "Sorry, but it's high time they pay to make it stop.''
The groups have filed similar lawsuits against subsidiaries of Massey Energy, Arch Coal, Patriot Coal and Western Coal.
Last summer, U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers ordered Patriot to spend $45 million to address selenium pollution from two of its mountaintop removal mines.