As in the earlier cases, the environmental groups accuse the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection of failing to enforce selenium limits but do not name the agency as a defendant.
In the Knight-Ink case, they accuse the DEP of colluding with the coal company to repeatedly delay stricter limits and compliance schedules. The lawsuit also says DEP failed to enforce its own order that an effective treatment system for selenium be online by October 2008.
Water quality lawsuits have become one of the favored tools of groups that oppose large-scale surface mining in Appalachia, particularly the highly efficient and highly destructive form of strip mining known as mountaintop removal.
DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said her agency is involved in more than a dozen selenium-discharge lawsuits with mining companies, including ICG Eastern. The DEP is in discussions with ICG about how to proceed, she said.
"Over the last four years, the state has assessed nearly $20 million in penalties against violators in the coal industry," Cosco said, "and we believe that that would stack up fairly well if compared to other states taking action against a major industry."
The lawsuit asks U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey to force ICG to immediately comply with all effluent limits, monitoring and reporting requirements, and previous state orders.
Complaining the state has proposed only "minuscule'' fines for violations they contend should cost ICG tens of millions, the plaintiffs also demand ICG be fined as much as $37,500 a day for each violation since Jan. 12, 2009, and $32,500 a day for each day before that date.