Federal judge: Two W.Va. streams polluted by coal mine runoff

A federal judge has ruled two West Virginia streams were polluted by runoff from a coal-mining operation, Kallanish Energy understands.

U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers in Charleston, W.Va., found the contaminated runoff from Fola Coal’s Monoc No. 2  Surface Mine on the Clay-Nicholas counties border had impaired aquatic life and damaged Shanty Branch and Elick Hollow so badly the streams violate key state and federal water quality protections.

The judge said the streams were polluted with ionic pollution as measured by conductivity.

The court must next conduct a trial to determine how to remedy the problem.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the Sierra Club.

It is the latest in a series of rulings in citizen lawsuits by Chambers on mountaintop coal removal and coal-mining water pollution. Chamber’s ruling, in a 38-page decision, is the first to use West Virginia’s new, more-accurate and peer-reviewed means of measuring biological impairment in streams, observers said.

Recent cases have focused on electrical conductivity, which scientists say is a key indicator of stream health and the presence of pollutants such as chlorides, sulfides and dissolved solids. High conductivity is extremely harmful to aquatic species.

The two polluted streams flow into Leatherwood Creek, but the judge ruled the eco-groups failed to prove coal mining discharges had impaired Leatherwood Creek.