CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Two Alpha Natural Resources Inc. subsidiaries are being sued by environmental groups who claim selenium discharges at a surface mine and a coal slurry impoundment in southern West Virginia have violated federal clean water and surface mining laws.
The federal lawsuit claims discharges from Independence Coal's Crescent No. 2 Surface Mine in Boone County and from Marfork Coal's 7-billion-gallon Brushy Fork impoundment in Raleigh County exceed state water quality standards for selenium. The lawsuit also alleges that the discharges violate the companies' discharge permits.
Federal and state regulators have not taken any action since the plaintiffs notified them of the alleged violations and the intent to sue on March 9, the lawsuit said.
The Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Coal River Mountain Watch filed the lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Huntington. The groups' members have refrained from fishing, swimming and other recreational activities or enjoy these activities less because of the selenium discharges into tributaries of the Big Coal and Little Coal rivers, the lawsuit said.
The groups also said in a news release that many local residents are concerned about their ability to evacuate if the Brushy Fork impoundment failed. The groups said such an event would eclipse the 1972 Buffalo Creek dam collapse that killed 125 people.
"Brushy Fork has engendered fear and dread in citizens seemingly forever," Jim Sconyers, chairman of the West Virginia Sierra Club, said in the release. "This legal action will dispel at least one component of that dread — the needless and unlawful pollution of streams that are a key part of citizens' lives."
Ted Pile, a spokesman for Virginia-based Alpha, said the company's operations are in compliance with water quality standards. He also said regulators have determined the Brushy Fork impoundment is safe and in compliance with government standards.
"Also, insinuating that we routinely break the law, with acquiescence of state regulators, is offensive and unnecessarily provocative. We believe that the plaintiffs in this suit should exercise greater restraint in their public claims," Pile said Thursday in a statement.
Alpha requires its operations to follow an environmental management program that is designed to ensure discharges are within permit limits. In 2011, the water quality compliance rate of Alpha's operations was 99.7 percent, he said.
Pile also said the company plans to construct a treatment plant for selenium at the Crescent mine and is investing in new treatment technologies.
The lawsuit asks the court to order the companies to comply with their permits and require them to remedy environmental damage. It also seeks civil penalties of up to $37,500 per day for each alleged violation of the federal Clean Water Act.