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.