The Sierra Club is seeking to join federal prosecutors and other environmental groups in a lawsuit to hold Massey Energy Company accountable for thousands of Clean Water Act violations associated with their mining operations. Massey has been charged by the government with illegal dumping of coal slurry waste, rubble, wastewater and other pollutants into Appalachian waterways. Representing Sierra Club in the challenge are the Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment and Earthjustice.
“Massey has operated outside the law far too long and must now be held accountable for these very real crimes against the people of Appalachia,” said Vernon Haltom, co-director of West Virginia based Coal River Mountain Watch. “Thousands of violations, with only token penalties, prove them to be an outlaw corporation.”
The government has documented over 4,600 cases of pollution being illegally dumped into local waters by Massey and its subsidiaries, which operate dozens of mountaintop removal and other large-scale surface mines in Appalachia. On the heels of the administration decision to open the door for new, expanded mining, Massey needs to be held accountable before more damage is done.
“Massey has both a legal and moral obligation to protect streams and drinking water supplies in the communities where it operates,” said Ed Hopkins, director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Quality Program. “Unfortunately the company has shown time and again that it is unwilling to take its obligations seriously.”
Massey has a long history of environmental and social irresponsibility — including one of the largest slurry spills ever to take place in the United States and a $1.5 million fine from the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The company’s mountaintop removal mines use some of the most environmentally devastating types of mining, flattening the landscape and burying miles of streams.
“The wholesale destruction of streams and mountains in Appalachia caused by mountaintop removal mining has gone too far,” said Joe Lovett, of the Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment, lawyer along with Earthjustice for the conservation groups. “For years, Massey has been a scofflaw when it comes to the Clean Water Act. They should be required to follow the law just as any other citizen is. When they don’t, they need to come into compliance or pay the price.”
In March 2007, a federal court threw out four mountaintop removal mining permits approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, because they permitted pollution and destruction of streams in violation of the Clean Water Act. Mountaintop removal mining has already permanently buried more than 1,500 miles of streams and flattened 500,000 acres of mountains in Appalachia.
“The Army Corps of Engineers had approved permits that violated the Clean Water Act,” said Earthjustice attorney Steve Roady. “The court’s decision rescinding those permits puts in doubt the Corps’ ability to permit mountaintop removal mines without destroying these important headwater streams.”
Other groups involved in the suit include the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. These groups have a longstanding interest in enforcing environmental protection laws. As parties to the government’s suit, local activist groups and coalfield residents are getting involved, encouraging more responsible mining practices and holding companies accountable for their actions.