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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Greens in W. Va. Seek Mud River Restoration

(CN) - A Madison, W. Va., mining company is negligently discharging pollutants into the Mud River watershed that are causing habitat changes and sickening fish in the region, environmentalists claim in Federal Court.

The Mud River is a tributary of West Virginia's Guyandotte River, which ties it, after some meandering, to the Mississippi River watershed. It is also considered a prime location for fishing by recreational anglers.

In addition to its use by sportsmen and women, the region around the river is also home to several mining operations, not the least of which are those owned by the defendant Hobet Mining in Boone and Lincoln counties.

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Commission and the Sierra Club brought a federal lawsuit in Huntington on April 6, claiming that Hobet has been discharging unlawful amounts of ionic and sulfate pollutants in the watershed in violation of the Clean Water Act.

Hobet has been active in the area around the Mud River since 1985, when surface mining in the area became widespread in the area. Over the years the company has been issued numerous permits by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection covering several surface mining areas and valley fills.

According to a surface mining website run by Alpha Natural Resources, a "valley fill" is a location in which debris from mountain top removal operations are placed prior to reclamation. During reclamation the debris is returned to the mined area in an attempt to restore the land to its previous condition.

According to the complaint, several of Hobet's valley fills, filled with toxic coal mining sludge, subsequently discharge into the Mud River.

Plaintiff Sierra Club's website states that more than 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia have been buried in valley fills since 2005.

"Specifically, it is the pollution identified by high conductivity levels in water downstream from mountaintop removal sites and valley fills that poses the clearest danger to our waterways," the group claims on its website.

The Sierra Club's website also asserts that "residents in mining areas-especially mountaintop removal mining areas-have higher incidents of cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, birth defects, premature mortality and other issues."

In their complaint, the plaintiffs claim that state water quality monitoring in the area has repeatedly turned up evidence that Hobet's operations of causing significant environmental degradation.

"The violations identified herein show that Hobet's treatment methods are insufficient to meet [state water quality standards]," the complaint says. "Thus, the performance standards require Hobet to construct systems that will effectively treat its effluent to the levels that comply with all applicable water quality standards."

The plaintiffs seek a declaration that Hobet has violated both the Clean Water Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, injunctive relief, an order that the company immediately bring its operations into compliance with its permits, and an additional order requiring it to clean up the contamination already in the watershed.

They are represented by Michael Becher and Joseph Lovett of Appalachian Mountain Advocates of Lewisburg, W. Va.

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