Environmentalists allege pollution from West Virginia mine

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A group of environmentalists said Tuesday it intended to sue West Virginia over evidence of pollutants running into waterways from a coal mine site.

In a letter to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the group alleges violations of the Clean Water Act at a coal mine site managed by the state agency in Clay and Nicholas counties in central West Virginia.

The Sierra Club, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the West Virginia Rivers Coalition are part of the notice of intent to sue.

They claim there were 780 violations of permit limits for pH, iron and aluminum since October 2016 at the Greendale Coals site. “Based on the dismal compliance history at this site, it appears that WVDEP either never built the needed treatment system or has failed to operate it properly,” Derek Teaney, counsel for the organizations, wrote in the letter.

The lawsuit would be the latest legal attempt to improve conditions at former mining sites across Appalachia. As more coal mines go out of business, the process of reclamation is crucial to preventing environmental pollution and returning the land to its habitat. Contaminants can seep into waterways and harm wildlife if not properly handled after a mine closes.

Yet funds are often scarce and many shuttered mines still await cleanup.

In May, a group that included the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit to seek to force the federal government to address West Virginia’s underfunded mine reclamation bond fund.

A legislative audit earlier this month found that West Virginia’s mine reclamation fund is financially teetering due to declining bond revenues and has no known backup plan if it goes insolvent.

Among several recommendations, the auditor called on the department to not approve applications for permit renewals for companies that have not paid taxes for the special reclamation fund. Its review found that 70 mining companies that filed coal reclamation tax returns were delinquent on $5.3 million in total funds.

The site in Clay and Nicholas counties was abandoned by Greendale Coals, Inc., in 1987, according to the Sierra Club.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection declined to comment on pending litigation.