In 2003, a broad federal government study of mountaintop-removal mining found repeated violations of water-quality limits for selenium. The following year, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report warned of more selenium problems downstream from major mining operations.
Since then, coal lobbyists have tried unsuccessfully to weaken the state's selenium limits, but have persuaded the DEP to repeatedly delay compliance deadlines for many operations.
In the Massey case, trial had been set to begin in August before Chambers, who had ruled in April to allow the citizen group suits to continue.
Chambers had ruled that the then-Massey operations were violating selenium permit limits, and said further hearings would be held to decide the scope of injunctive relief and civil penalties. Those hearings were called off when lawyers told the judge they were close to a settlement.
Under the settlement, Alpha will be given time to install certain types of treatment systems, but will have to upgrade those to more expensive technology if selenium violations don't stop. The deal calls for compliance with permit limits by mid-2014.
Alpha will also pay $450,000 in civil penalties and contribute $4 million to the West Virginia Land Trust to help fund the West Virginia University College of Law's new Land Use and Sustainable Development Clinic.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.