A federal court has found that mines in West Virginia violated state and federal water quality protections.
According to documents filed May 26, the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia decided in favor of environmental groups who had sued Fola Coal Co. LLC.
"The court finds that plaintiffs have established, by a preponderance of the evidence, that defendant has violated its permits by discharging high levels of ionic pollution, as measured by conductivity, into Shanty Branch and Elick Hollow, which have caused or materially contributed to a significant adverse impact to the chemical and biological components of the applicable streams' aquatic ecosystems, in violation of the narrative water quality standards that are incorporated into those permits," the court document said.
"In both streams nary a mayfly was found over multiple samples taken at different times of the year," the judge concluded, adding that the streams "were at one time thriving ecosystems, teeming with life that supported important functions for West Virginians and terrestrial and aquatic organisms alike."
The lawsuit was filed May 24 by Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and West Virginia Rivers Coalition.
Jim Kotcon, Chapter Chair for the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, called the decision a major victory for West Virginia families and the waters they rely on. "This is also a reminder to coal companies that they cannot expect to pollute with impunity — we will continue to fight for our health, waters, lands, and wallets. Now, we hope to see the court hold Fola Coal accountable for cleaning up the mess they've made because West Virginia taxpayers will not be left with the bill and the burden of repairing the environmental degradation left behind by coal mining," he said in a May 30 release.
The judge also ruled against another part of the environmental groups' lawsuit, which alleges that pollution from these waterways also constituted a violation of Fola's permit relating to the larger Leatherwood Creek that Shanty Branch and Elick Hollow drain into.
"Plaintiffs have not quantified pollution contributions from Fola to Leatherwood Creek by way of Shanty Branch and Elick Hollow and therefore have not met their burden on this issue," the filing said.
The judge said that the court will contact the parties to schedule a trial to determine how to fix the problem.