CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Several environmental groups are threatening to sue coal producer Massey Energy Co. for what they claim are more than 12,000 violations of pollution laws.
The Sierra Club and several West Virginia groups said Monday they've given Massey a notice that gives the company 60 days to reach a settlement or face a lawsuit.
The groups claim Massey has continued with the same pattern of violations covered by a $20 million settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency two years ago.
Richmond, Va.-based Massey denied the allegations.
"On first review, the data and conclusions in the notice appear to be significantly incorrect," Massey said, adding that the company's rate of compliance with environmental laws is above 99 percent. "The threatened suit is but another attempt by out-of-state extremists to attack the coal industry."
The environmental groups, however, say it's Massey that's attacking the environment.
"The previous settlement was one of the largest in the history of the EPA," said Mary Anne Hitt, who heads Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign. "It really looks like they just don't have any intention of complying with the Clean Water Act."
The planned lawsuit covers that law and federal and West Virginia surface mining laws. While Massey operates mines in Virginia and Kentucky as well, the groups are alleging only violations in West Virginia, the nation's No. 2 coal-producing state. And they are not planning action against the EPA or the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, which is supposed to enforce environmental laws.
"We're just focused right now on these violations because they are just so egregious," Hitt said.
Also involved in the threatened litigation are the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
They're claiming violations are detailed in quarterly reports Massey gives the EPA under terms of the earlier settlement. Among other things, they claim Massey violated effluent limits at various operations nearly 1,000 times from April 2008 through March 2009. The environmental groups also claim Massey released too much aluminum, suspended solids, iron and other pollutants from more than 100 surface and underground mines, processing plants and other facilities.
"Remarkably, Massey's violations have grown more frequent after the settlement with the EPA," the groups wrote in a notice of intent to sue sent to the company.