(CN) - A coalition of environmental groups and West Virginia resident sued the Fola Coal Co., and its new owners for allegedly discharging pollutants into a number of rivers and streams in violation of the Clean Water Act.
In a federal complaint filed Wednesday in the Huntington, West Virginia, the plaintiffs claim Fola Coal and new owner, Southeastern Land LLC, released sulfates into tributaries of the Elk and Gauley Rivers from two of their surface coal mines.
"The many mining operations that sprawl over this area of Clay and Nicholas counties have not only consumed homes and small rural communities but are now destroying stream life, degrading irreplaceable headwater streams and endangering the biologically diverse and rich ecosystem of the Elk River itself," said Cindy Rank, Mining Chair of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, said in a written statement. "Fola Coal Company must be compelled to accept responsibility for clean up."
In a press release the plaintiff Sierra Club said the pollutants, which it says were identified through electrical conductivity measurements, "are extremely harmful to aquatic life in streams, and also serve as an indicator of other possible pollution problems."
Jim Kotcon, chairman of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the organization wants the court to compel Fola Coal to clean up the impacted waterways so that "taxpayers will not be left to foot the bill and the burden of repairing the environmental degradation left behind by coal mining."
Peter Morgan, a senior attorney at the Sierra Club, said the legal theory the plaintiffs are asserting in the lawsuit has been successfully used past.
"We have received five previous court orders against mines that have contaminated 8 West Virginia streams," Morgan said. "Multiple peer-reviewed scientific studies have concluded that every mountain top removal mine in Appalachia discharges levels of conductivity pollution that are harmful to aquatic life. Streams across Appalachia, and the communities that rely on them, continue to be harmed by this mining pollution."
Representatives of Fola Coal Company Co., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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