CRMW Holds WVDEP, Lexington Coal Co. Accountable

Oct 27, 2023

Coal River Mountain Watch Holds Lexington Coal Company Accountable for Environmental Violations 

W.Va. Department of Environmental Protection assesses nearly $600,000 in fines


Vernon Haltom, Executive Director, Coal River Mountain Watch

Naoma, W.Va.– Coal River Mountain Watch, an environmental justice citizens’ group in Naoma, West Virginia, has compelled the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to impose substantial fines totaling over $297,000 on Lexington Coal Company. WVDEP levied these penalties on 13 cessation orders resulting from the company's negligent practices. The WVDEP has issued nearly $600,000 in fines to Lexington so far in October. None have been paid, according to the WVDEP.

CRMW examined and scrutinized Lexington’s mining permits and inspection files near the community.  CRMW alerted the federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement to WVDEP’s practice of granting unlimited extensions of time for coal companies to correct their violations. In one egregious example, WVDEP granted 25 extensions to abate a violation issued July 29, 2021, over two years. Law requires that extensions past 90 days are limited to specific circumstances, none of which applied to the violation. Coal River Mountain Watch, joined by Appalachian Voices and Sierra Club, on July 18, 2023, requested the OSMRE to take oversight action to end the process.

Coal River Mountain Watch’s Vernon Haltom and Sierra Club’s Alex Cole accompanied OSMRE on an inspection of the Twilight MTR mountaintop removal permit, just four miles from CRMW’s solar powered office and community center in Naoma. The site is part of Lexington’s sprawling 13-square-mile Twilight mountaintop removal complex on Cherry Pond Mountain in Boone and Raleigh Counties.  After the inspection, OSMRE agreed with CRMW and on Aug. 8, 2023, found that “WVDEP has continued to extend NOV #86 without requiring the permittee to establish clear and convincing proof that he is entitled to an extension… Also, WVDEP has not complied with the provisions of 38-2-20.2c…” (attached as "Twilight MTR TDN OSMRE violation NOV 86 2023-8-8.pdf"). In response, the WVDEP agreed on Aug. 25, 2023, that Lexington’s non-justifiable reasons for extending the violation should not have been accepted. WVDEP further agreed that Lexington “has failed to diligently pursue abatement of the violation” and that the extension “was erroneously granted and not in accordance with the WVDEP DMR policies and directives."

WVDEP then issued a Failure to Abate Cessation Order and civil penalty assessment of $750 per day for 30 days, the maximum allowed by law, for a fine of $22,500, as they had done for the day before the inspection for another violation on the permit. WVDEP also applied their corrected reasoning to other violations in the area, and in October assessed 16 violations across 14 permits $22,500 each, plus another for $4,500 (attached as "LCC CO assessments Oct 2023-10-26.pdf"). The violation sites were in seven counties: Boone, Logan, Mingo, Nicholas, Raleigh, Wayne, and Wyoming Counties. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from CRMW, WVDEP on Oct. 24, 2023, provided a 169-page document summarizing a multitude of fines to Lexington in 2023 for a total of $596,426, none of which have been paid.

 “It feels like a significant win when our organization can compel the WVDEP to change its practices and grow some teeth,” said Coal River Mountain Watch Executive Director Vernon Haltom. “However, they resisted this step and took it only with federal oversight prodding. WVDEP has a long way to go to gain our confidence that they will consistently and effectively enforce the law. Why did we have to point out to the experts that they were improperly granting violation extensions? Why was WVDEP content to leave hundreds of thousands of dollars uncollected for the state of West Virginia? We need to see WVDEP take the next steps of revoking Lexington’s permits, which they are well within their authority to do, instead of granting more permit renewals and permit revisions to further delay reclamation.”

Lexington Coal Company’s multiple violations include failure to clean out sediment ditches, improper handling of oil spills, failure to properly renew permits, and neglecting to adhere to their reclamation schedule. These infringements have had detrimental effects on the local ecosystem and pose significant risks to the surrounding communities.

Four of the permits on the Twilight Complex on Cherry Pond Mountain have five cessation orders subject to the $22,500 fines, for $112,500. One of these, the Crescent #2 permit, is pending renewal even though it has a large fine and several smaller ones, with five new cessation orders issued on Oct. 19, 2023. Residents have until Nov. 10, 2023, to object to renewal of Lexington’s permit number S502007, and also to request a conference and site visit to view the site in person. WVDEP, catering to coal company wishes and forgetting their authority, have prohibited photos on recent site visits. Objections can be emailed to the site monitor at This permit was suspended last year as a result of CRMW pointing out a lengthy pattern of violations. The company resumed violating almost immediately upon WVDEP lifting the suspension.

In response to this significant development, Junior Walk, Site Monitor for Coal River Mountain Watch’s Citizens’ Enforcement Program, stated, "We are pleased to see that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has taken decisive action against Lexington Coal Company for their environmental violations. This sends a strong message that our natural resources must be protected, and those who disregard environmental regulations will face the consequences. We will continue to monitor and hold accountable any entities that put our environment and communities at risk."


Coal River Mountain Watch has a mission to stop the destruction of our communities and environment by mountaintop removal mining, to improve the quality of life in our area, and to help rebuild sustainable communities. By actively engaging with regulatory authorities and advocating for stronger environmental protections, the organization strives to safeguard the well-being of West Virginia's natural resources and its residents.

CRMW’s previous Executive Director, the late Judy Bonds, won the 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize for North America. CRMW’s proudest victory was securing a new school for the students of Marsh Fork Elementary, where they began classes in 2013. The old school was next door to a coal preparation plant, 2,000-acre mountaintop removal site, and 2.8-billion-gallon coal waste sludge dam.