Conservationist groups have taken their concerns about a Kanawha County surface mine’s alleged pollution of a creek that flows into the Kanawha River to federal court.
The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia Thursday against JMAC Leasing, Inc., alleging that JMAC’s Briar Mountain Surface Mine was discharging pollutants into waters near the mine that violate federal water pollution and coal mine regulation laws.
The lawsuit alleges that JMAC’s selenium levels in discharges from an outlet that discharges into Cabin Creek have exceeded permit limits since it began reporting the levels in March 2015, even after the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection approved constructing a passive biological treatment system to treat and remove selenium from discharges at the outlet following a 2015 administrative consent order from the DEP that required JMAC to address its selenium noncompliance.
Cabin Creek flows into the Kanawha River. Selenium is toxic at high concentrations, and chronic exposure in fish and other aquatic life can cause reproductive harm.
The conservationist groups are asking for the court to declare that JMAC is violating the Clean Water Act and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, and issue an injunction prohibiting JMAC from operating the Briar Mountain Surface Mine and its facilities in what they say would be further violation of its permits under those acts. The groups also seek orders forcing JMAC to pay civil penalties of up to $56,460 per day for each violation of the Clean Water Act under the law and their attorneys’ and expert witness fees.
“JMAC must be held accountable for its dangerous pollution by ceasing these elevated discharges and addressing the damage the company has caused to nearby waterways and communities,” Sierra Club spokesman Pablo Willis said.
“When permit limits are routinely exceeded, and when DEP fails to hold companies to account, then federal law allows citizens to step up to try to defend our water by asking a federal court for an injunction,” said Vivian Stockman, executive director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “This really is a last resort, but one we have to resort to far too often in West Virginia.”
JMAC could not be reached for comment.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency records from Oct. 2017 through Sept. 2020 show that the facility was in “significant noncompliance” throughout the three-year period. Significant noncompliance is the most serious level of violation noted in EPA databases for the Clean Water Act.