Alpha to pay $50 million for Selenium treatment

Dec 13, 2011

Alpha Natural Resources—formerly Massey Energy—will have to clean up selenium pollution at three mountaintop removal mines under a legal settlement brought by the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and Coal River Mountain Watch.  The settlement requires that Alpha begin construction of selenium treatment facilities with an estimated construction cost of over $50 million as well as pay penalties of $4.5 million.

The following text taken from the Sierra Club: (Great quote from Vernon bolded below)

“This settlement will require Alpha to pay their due and start addressing the damage done to West Virginia waterways,” said Jim Sconyers, Chair of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “This settlement reflects another step in our fight to ensure that coal companies act responsibly in regards to the health of surrounding communities and West Virginia’s wild lands.”

The settlement requires Alpha to immediately begin installing treatment technology to bring selenium discharges within acceptable levels. The proposed date of final compliance for the settlement is July 1, 2014 for all mines affected to ensure Alpha has time to install treatment facilities and make any necessary adjustments. Alpha will be subject to significant penalties for any violations that occur after the compliance date for each source of pollution. The vast majority of the penalties will go to the West Virginia Land Trust.

“This settlement, which follows recent agreements with Arch Coal and Patriot Coal, proves that coal mines in West Virginia have the ability to treat their selenium problems,” said Dianne Bady with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “Now it’s time for all coal companies to take similar actions.”

“Although treatment may be sufficient to address these existing selenium problems, ultimately the industry and regulators need to recognize that it’s not appropriate to mine coal seams that are high in selenium,” said Cindy Rank with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

Selenium, a toxic element that causes reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life, is discharged from many surface coal-mining operations across Appalachia. At very high levels, selenium can pose a risk to human health, causing hair and fingernail loss, kidney and liver damage, and damage to the nervous and circulatory systems.

“The West Virginia DEP should be ashamed that citizen groups are doing what the agency should have done years ago,” said Vernon Haltom, executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “Instead, it’s left to citizen groups to take action to protect West Virginia’s streams and communities.”

The settlement was lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. The U.S. government will have an opportunity to review the settlement before its terms take effect.

Read Ken Ward's article in the Gazette.