Virginia Groups Take Legal Action Over Federal Agency For Refusing To Allow Citizen Inspection of Coal Min

RICHMOND, VA — Today, the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit appealing an Interior Board of Land Appeals’ determination that upheld refusals by both the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to allow citizens to inspect a Virginia coal mine operated by Red River Coal Company, Inc in Wise County. The groups had originally requested the inspection in January 2014 based on evidence that the mine is releasing the harmful mining pollutant selenium into nearby streams.

In response, Jane Branham, President of Southern Appalachia Mountain Stewards, released the following statement:

“Coal mining is a destructive practice that devastates communities by poisoning drinking water andlaying waste to wildlife habitats.

“One of the central pillars of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) is the guarantee of citizen participation in permitting and oversight of coal mines. In particular, SMCRA allows citizens to request– and participate in– inspections of mine sites alleged to be in violation of their mining permit or other performance standards. Sierra Club and SAMS brought today’s lawsuit in order to protect the critical right of citizens to monitor coal mines that impact their communities and environment.”

“I should have been granted my right to a citizen inspection”, SAMS member Matt Hepler stated.

The groups are represented by attorneys with Morris Law Office and Appalachian Mountain Advocates

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Community Groups Settlement Forces A&G Coal Company to Treat Pollution Discharges Agreement addresses several pollution sources and advances community project

WISE COUNTY, VA – Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices today lodged a consent decree with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia resolving their 2014 Clean Water Act enforcement suit against Penn Virginia Operating Company. The suit sought to address unpermitted discharges of selenium and sulfate into several tributaries of Callahan Creek in Wise County, VA. Both pollutants are known to be harmful to aquatic life.

As a result of the settlement, A&G Coal Company – which operates a neighboring mine – will treat three seeps currently discharging selenium into the Kelly Branch tributary of Callahan Creek.

“Selenium pollution is widespread below surface mines and can have long-term impacts on fish and other wildlife. Treating this pollution before it has a chance to enter public rivers is important not only for the rivers themselves, but also the people who rely on them,” said Matt Hepler

The settlement also requires the companies to provide $35,000 for the initial cleanup assessment of a nearby abandoned coal processing site, known as Tipple Hill, in Norton, VA. Once the site has been restored, it could be included in the Norton Guest River Walk project. The Tipple Hill project is supported by the City of Norton, the Virginia DMME, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the Upper Tennessee River Roundtable.

“We are pleased to not only clean up several sources of water pollution in the area, but also to contribute to a project – acceleron that will address a long-standing problem in Norton and benefit the community as a whole,” said Erin Savage, Central Appalachian Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices.

“While the deal still requires approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice, we’re confident the agencies will recognize the benefits the agreement will provide to the local community, which has suffered tremendous harm from mountaintop removal coal mining, such as higher rates of pollution-related illness,” said Gabby Gillespie, a Sierra Club organizer based in southwest Virginia.

The consent decree settlement agreement will be lodged with the court for 45 days pending review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The groups were represented in this litigation by attorneys with Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

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SAMS Election 2016

Its that time of year again!

Reminder. The annual election for the SAMS board of directors will be March 15th. Nominations for the SAMS board are now open, and will close at the SAMS February membership meeting (Feb 16).

If you would like to make a nomination of a SAMS board member, Please contact Gabby Gillespie at gabby.gillespie@sierraclub.org Gabby will be checking to see if your membership dues are current as you nominate. SAMS will be accepting nominations for President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, and two board member positions.

Please note: People who pay their dues after March the 8th, will be ineligible to vote in the upcoming election. You must be present at the SAMS office to vote on March 15th.

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Kelly Branch Surface Mine Settlement To Result in Cleaner Water, Healthier Community

WISE COUNTY, VA – The Sierra Club, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, and Appalachian Voices today filed a consent decree resolving the 2012 Clean Water Act enforcement suit against A&G Coal Corporation, a subsidiary owned by coal billionaire Jim Justice, and found responsible for toxic selenium pollution from its Kelly Branch Surface Mine in Wise County, Virginia in 2014. As part of the settlement, the company must pay more than $300,000 in penalties and fees, the bulk of which will go toward three supplemental environmental projects that will clean up legacy coal sites in southwest Virginia. An earlier court order in the litigation required the company to secure enforceable permit limits for its discharges of selenium.

The projects, at three different sites, will each reduce surface water pollution, thereby improving the environment and reducing risks to the environment and to public health. The projects must, per the settlement, primarily benefit the public and the environment, not the polluter.

“We are pleased to see controls put on A&G Coal Corporation’s pollution and to have secured a penalty that will be used to benefit the community,” said Glen Besa, Director of Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter. “Today, we declare victory for our community against this polluter. It is a shame, however, that it continues to fall to groups like ours to protect our communities and our environment from this dirty industry.”

Today’s filing comes after the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ July 2014 decision finding A&G Coal Corporation liable for its selenium pollution and ultimately accountable for discharging toxic pollution at levels that exceed state water quality standards. Selenium, a toxic element that can cause reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life, is discharged from many surface coal-mining operations across Appalachia. Selenium accumulates in the tissues of aquatic organisms over time, and experts predict that waterways across Appalachia could be on the brink of collapse due to increasing levels of the pollutant.

“I am very excited about our ability to secure an agreement that will clean up and enhance these legacy coal tipple sites and that will therefore contribute to water quality improvements in our community’s watershed,” said Jane Branham with Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “Without the money coming from this settlement agreement, these eyesores — which should have been cleaned up long ago — would have remained in place.”

“We are pleased that this case not only resulted in addressing the selenium pollution from A&G’s mine, but will also address years-worth of unaddressed coal pollution. Communities in Southwest Virginia are working hard toward economic diversification and having clean rivers and streams is an vital part of that work,” said Erin Savage, Central Appalachian Campaign Coordinator.

The consent decree settlement agreement will be lodged with the court for 45 days pending review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The groups were represented in this litigation by attorneys with Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

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