PITTSBURGH (AP) — A citizens' group has sued a longwall mining company in southwestern Pennsylvania, claiming it is polluting key waterways — including at least one high-quality fishing stream — that feed the Monongahela River.
The Center for Coalfield Justice, based in Washington, Pa., filed the federal lawsuit Friday in Pittsburgh against Emerald Coal Resources LP, which operates the Emerald Mine in Waynesburg, Greene County. The citizens' group is being backed by the Earthrise Law Center in Norwell, Mass.
The lawsuit contends Emerald Coal has violated pollution levels for iron, manganese, aluminum and other pollutants more than 120 times in the past 12 months and more than 400 times in the past five years. The group is basing those claims on violations the company has been self-reporting to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection under Emerald's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit as part of the federal Clean Water Act.
"Plaintiff and its members reasonably fear harm from using the waters affected by Emerald's illegal discharges, recreating in and near such waters, and eating fish caught in such waters," the lawsuit said. "Due to the chronic and persistent nature of these violations, there is more than a reasonable likelihood of ongoing permit violations in the future."
Officials with the mining company referred calls to the parent company, Alpha Natural Resources, of Bristol, Va., where The Associated Press was told nobody was available for comment.
Under the Clean Water Act, citizens' groups can sue for enforcement of pollution standards and seek penalties of up to $37,500 per day for violations. The Department of Environmental Protection is not being sued, nor is the federal Environmental Protection Agency, but the Center for Coalfield Justice indicates it has given those agencies 60 days' notice of the alleged violations so it could sue in hopes the court will order compliance and issue monetary penalties.
DEP spokesman John Poister said the agency doesn't want to comment until it can carefully review the lawsuit.
Among other things, the lawsuit contends that runoff and other pollution from the mining is fouling the South Fork Tenmile Creek, along with other Monongahela tributaries.
The South Fork is designated by the DEP as a "high quality warm water fishery" upstream of the mine and a "warm water fishery" below the mine. But the lawsuit contends the DEP's 2012 Draft Water Quality Monitoring Report lists the South Fork as "impaired and not attaining its aquatic life use."
"As an already impaired water body, it is essentially that no further strain from industrial and other pollutants be placed on the South Fork," the lawsuit said.