CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A federal judge has found another West Virginia mining operation in violation of the state’s water quality standard for selenium.
U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers’ latest ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Sierra Club against CONSOL Energy’s Peg Fork Surface Mine.
Chambers ruled that discharges from the mine exceeded the state’s selenium standard. He based his finding on water samples taken in December 2013.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection had ordered CONSOL to pay a civil penalty in a settlement concerning selenium violations at the Peg Fork in December 2012. CONSOL argued that the DEP’s enforcement action protected it from the lawsuit.
Such lawsuits are prohibited as long as the state has “commenced and is diligently prosecuting” to require compliance. Chambers said the DEP has not done diligently pursued its enforcement action.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to require the company to abide by pollution regulations or to pay civil penalties for each violation.
Chambers said the plaintiffs’ claims for civil penalties and injunctive relief will be resolved in the litigation’s second phase.
He issued his ruling earlier this week, The Charleston Gazette reported.
Last week, the judge ruled in a separate lawsuit that discharges from an Alpha Natural Resources coal slurry impoundment in Raleigh County violated the state’s selenium standard. The three environmental groups also are plaintiffs in that case, along with Coal River Mountain Watch.
Selenium is a naturally occurring element that surface mining can release into waterways. In humans, high-level exposure can damage the kidneys, liver, and central nervous and circulatory systems.