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Mingo mine violating selenium limits, judge rules

A Mingo County surface mine approved by the Obama administration is violating West Virginia’s water quality limits for toxic selenium, a federal judge ruled Monday.

U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers issued a 33-page ruling in a case brought by citizen groups against CONSOL Energy’s Peg Fork Surface Mine.

The judge cited violations of the state’s selenium water quality standard, based on samples taken in December 2013.

Chambers ruled in a lawsuit brought against the CONSOL operation by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Sierra Club.

The case is the latest in a series of lawsuits filed against mine operators over excess selenium pollution from mountaintop removal operations across Southern West Virginia.

Selenium, a naturally occurring element found in many rocks and soils, impacts the reproductive cycle of many aquatic species, can impair the development and survival of fish, and can damage gills or other organs of aquatic organisms subject to prolonged exposure.

Citizen group lawsuits over selenium violations have prompted, among other things, a move by Patriot Coal to phase out its use of large-scale surface mining in Central Appalachia.

In the Peg Fork case, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had initially questioned a Clean Water Act permit for the operation, but then backed off, quietly approving the mine in August 2009.

Chambers ruled that the state Department of Environmental Protection was not diligently pursuing its own enforcement action to bring the CONSOL operation into compliance with water quality standards. CONSOL had argued a DEP action protected the company from the citizen group litigation.

The judge did not yet decide on any fines or on a court order to require CONSOL to clean up its pollution discharge.

The ruling was the second time in April that Chambers found a coal company was violating selenium standards in Southern West Virginia. The judge also ruled against Alpha Natural Resources in a case involving the discharge from a large coal-slurry impoundment.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at or 304-348-1702.

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