VICKI SMITHMORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) â¿¿ Arch Coal Inc. has agreed pay $2 million and install treatment and monitoring equipment to settle a 2010 lawsuit over selenium pollution from six West Virginia coal mines. A coalition of environmental and conservation organizations announced the agreement Monday, saying the deal would hold the St. Louis-based company responsible for damage it's already done and prevent more. The settlement could help address the declining water quality and diversity of aquatic life that the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy called "totally unacceptable." "But to truly protect our valuable and vital headwater streams, we must find a more permanent solution aimed at preventing the pollution in the first place," said spokeswoman Cindy Rank. Arch didn't immediately comment. The case involves subsidiaries Coal-Mac Inc. and Mingo Logan Coal Co., and the consent decree was filed late week in U.S. District Court in Huntington. The public has until Nov. 14 to comment before it's finalized. The consent decree gives Arch 30 days to pay $1.8 million to the West Virginia University College of Law for its Land Use and Sustainability Clinic. The clinic plans to hire a lead land-use attorney, two supporting attorneys and an experienced land-use planner next year, along with a full-time office manager and an additional faculty member at the law school who specializes in real estate and water law. Arch will pay the other $200,000 to the federal government. Arch also agrees to begin installing equipment to reduce selenium discharges and to monitor treatment at its mines in the future. Any future violations could cost the company $25,000 apiece. The lawsuit over federal Clean Water Act violations was brought by the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and Coal River Mountain Watch. Vivian Stockman, project coordinator for OVEC, hopes the agreement is a signal to both the coal industry and the state Department of Environmental Protection to "finally understand that West Virginia's precious streams are not theirs to poison."
Arch also agreed pay the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment more than $145,000 to cover the plaintiffs' costs in bringing the case, including fees for attorneys and expert witnesses.Selenium is a naturally occurring element that mountaintop removal mining releases into waterways. Studies have found it's toxic to aquatic life, and high-level exposure in humans can damage the kidneys, liver, and central nervous and circulatory systems. The consent order gives Arch three months to submit its proposed treatment plans to a special master, who will handle the implementation of the order and any disputes that arise. Arch would also foot the bill for any costs the special master incurs. In March, Arch agreed to pay $4 million in fines and change some of its mining practices to settle a separate pollution lawsuit was brought by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency. Under that agreement, Arch paid half of the penalty to the federal government and more than $1.8 million to West Virginia. That settlement covered discharges from 2003 through 2010 at four mining complexes in three states that allegedly discharged too much iron, aluminum, manganese, total suspended solids and other pollutants because of deficiencies in wastewater treatment systems.