ROANOKE, VA â€“ Today, a coalition of citizen and environmental groups filed a legal action with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia claiming that Penn Virginia Operating Company is violating Clean Water Act protections on property that it owns that includes former coal mining sites near the town of Appalachia in Wise County, Virginia. The groups have found through their own research including open records requests that Penn Virginia is violating Clean Water Act protections by dumping toxic selenium into streams at seven locations on its property.
Penn Virginia responded to the initial notice informing the company of the coalitionâ€™s intent to sue by serving members of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) with cease and desist orders. These orders bar SAMS members from entering any Penn Virginia owned land, including land that contains membersâ€™ family cemeteries.
â€œThis is a bully tactic and a serious insult to me and my family,â€ said Sam Broach, President of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. â€œPenn Virginia is using its corporate power to deny me the basic right to visit my family graveyard.â€
â€œFor too long the coal industry â€“ including the out of state corporations that own the land and coal â€“ has been able to get away with violating pollution standards,â€ said Glen Besa, Virginia Director of the Sierra Club. â€œThis lawsuit is a message to Penn Virginia that they must obey the pollution laws or citizens will take action.â€
Penn Virginia Operating Company, based out of Radnor, Pennsylvania, owns land in six states that it leases to third parties, including coal mining interests. Penn Virginia is a subsidiary of Penn Virginia Resource Partners, which is the largest single landowner in Wise County.
â€œFar too often, coal impacted communities are left with toxic water and depressed economies while large out of state companies make millions,â€ said Eric Chance, Water Quality Specialist for Appalachian Voices. â€œPenn Virginiaâ€™s failure to address these longstanding sources of pollution shows a disregard for the health of the people, land and water of Appalachia.â€
Pollution from coal mines is not limited to active surface mines. Because the ultimate source of the pollution comes from materials exposed through mining that remain on site, abandoned, and even reclaimed, mined sites continue to pollute. In many cases the owners of former mine sites do not have Clean Water Act discharge permits for these sites. Typically, these owners are large land holding companies who also own active mountaintop removal coal mining sites. Federal and state regulators typically do not monitor the discharges from these former mine sites.
The Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards are represented in this matter by Joe Lovett and Isak Howell of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.