Read the ruling here.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge on Thursday paved the way for environmental groups to continue two lawsuits aimed at forcing coal operators to comply with state pollution limits for toxic selenium runoff from their mines.
U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers allowed the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and three other groups to continue lawsuits against certain operations of Arch Coal Inc. and Massey Energy.
The environmental groups filed citizen lawsuits under the federal Clean Water Act, asking Chambers to order the companies to install appropriate treatment systems to end selenium violations from eight water-discharge permits.
In a 50-page ruling, Chambers rejected arguments from the companies that a stay of their appeal of a related state permit case blocked the citizens from bringing their federal court lawsuits.
The companies had been seeking an extension of a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection deadline of April 5, 2010, to comply with selenium discharge limits.
The DEP rejected the extension after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued specific objections to the move. The companies appealed, and the state Environmental Quality Board issued a ruling it said stayed the compliance deadline until a full appeal could be heard.
Chambers said that arrangement "resulted in a situation where the state administrative review process has rendered the EPA review of the state-issued permits -- a federal law requirement -- meaningless."
"The stays and, now, a placement of Defendants' appeals on the EQB's inactive docket, have resulted in a de facto extension of the compliance schedule in contravention of the EPA objections," the judge wrote.