West Virginia Selenium Pollution: Lawsuit Filed Against Alpha Natural Resources

07/16/2012 04:35 pm ET | Updated Sep 16, 2012

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Three environmental groups sued Alpha Natural Resources Inc. over selenium pollution again Monday, this time focused on nine southern West Virginia operations.

The complaint in U.S. District Court in Huntington targets operations in Logan, McDowell, Boone, and Kanawha counties. The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Sierra Club say that Virginia-based Alpha is violating the federal Clean Water Act and state-issued discharge permits.

They want a judge to order the operations to comply and fine Alpha as much as $37,500 per day of violation, some of which date to 2007. They also seek monitoring and sampling to determine the extent of the environmental damage, and a cleanup and restoration order.

Alpha didn't immediately comment.

The affected mines are: Alex Energy's Whitman No. 2 Surface Mine; Aracoma Coal Co.'s Camp Branch facility; Bandmill Coal Corp.'s Tower Mountain Surface Mine; Highland Mining Co.'s Freeze Fork Surface Mine; Independence Coal's Twilight Surface Mine; Jack's Branch Lady Dunn Preparation Plant, Hughes Creek Surface mine and Stockton Mine; and Kanawha Energy's Fourmile Fork Surface Mine.

Selenium is a naturally occurring element that surface mining can release into waterways. Studies have found it's toxic to aquatic life. In humans, high-level exposure can damage the kidneys, liver, and central nervous and circulatory systems.

In May, the same groups sued two Alpha subsidiaries over the same issue. That case involved Independence Coal's Crescent No. 2 Surface Mine in Boone County and Marfork Coal's 7-billion-gallon Brushy Fork impoundment in Raleigh County.

A spokesman said at the time that those operations were in compliance with water quality standards.

Alpha settled a similar lawsuit with the same three groups last December, ending a fight over three other mines. That plan called for some $50 million in cleanup efforts and fines at the Twilight and Red Cedar operations in Boone County and the Kanawha Division along the Kanawha-Fayette county line.

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