Center for Coalfield Justice indicates intent to sue coal company

Coalfield Justice claims Emerald Mine violated Clean Water Act

October 29, 2012

The Center for Coalfield Justice served notice Monday it intends to file a citizens lawsuit against Alpha Natural Resources and Emerald Coal Resources for alleged Clean Water Act violations at the company’s Emerald Mine in Waynesburg.The environmental group, based in Washington, served a 60-day legal notice of its intent to sue for what it claims are hundreds of violations of the Clean Water Act at the mine during the last five years. The notice was served on the companies as well as on the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Protection.“For years, the public has paid the price of coal’s dirty pollution into our rivers and streams,” said Patrick Grenter, the center’s executive director.“We cannot rely on the state or EPA to act. Emerald has been illegally violating the terms of their permits for years without being held accountable,” he said.The discharges listed in the notice include high levels of heavy metals, which have a detrimental effect on human health and the environment, the center said.“These ongoing and systemic violations are a glaring testament to DEP’s inability or unwillingness to enforce the law against polluters who are hurting human health and the environment,” said Joanne Kilgour, the center’s legal director.The legal notice is the first step in filing what is referred to as a citizen lawsuit under the Clean Water Act. When government agencies fail to address violations of the act, the law allows any adversely affected citizen to sue for enforcement of the law.Under the act, the notice gives DEP and EPA 60 days to act on the alleged violations. If the center believes neither agency has sufficiently addressed the violations within that time, the center can file suit in federal court, Grenter said.The center, however, also is open to discussing with the company any remedies to the violations, including those already taken, to ensure future compliance with the law prior to the filing of a suit, Grenter said.The list of alleged violations included in the notice is based on information the company provided regulatory agencies as part of its required waste water discharge monitoring program between December 2007 and June 2012.The list indicates incidents in which the company exceeded the discharge limits of its permit for iron, manganese, aluminum, osmotic pressure and total suspended solids. These discharges were on the South Fork of Tenmile Creek, Grimes Run, a tributary to Smith Creek and unnamed tributaries to Coal Lick Run and Dyers Fork.The center also maintains the company is in violation of monitoring frequency requirements established under its waste water discharge permit.Both John Poister, spokesman for the DEP, and Bonnie Smith, spokeswoman for EPA, said they have not yet seen the legal notice and would be unable to comment at this time.Samantha Davison, company spokeswoman, said the company had not yet received the notice of intent to sue referenced by the center.Company officials have met with both the EPA and DEP to address water quality issues at Emerald, she said. In addition, as reported previously, the company is proceeding with the selection, design and installation of an advanced water treatment system, she said.“The nearly 1500 employees of Emerald and Cumberland who work in this area also live, hunt, fish and recreate here, so they expect their company to be good stewards of the environment, while protecting the business that generates their jobs,” she said.

Bob Niedbala worked as a general assignment reporter for the newspaper for 27 years in the Greene County bureau. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh.

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