NWF and West Virginia Rivers Coalition Act to Protect West Virginia’s Mountains and Streams

National Wildlife Federation and its West Virginia affiliate West Virginia Rivers Coalition joined five other local, regional and national groups in filing a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Department of Interior because the Department’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM) has failed to intervene to protect the people, natural resources and wildlife against the state’s illegal and lax oversight of mountaintop-removal coal mining.

This notice to sue follows on the heels of a petition NWF and WVRC filed along with and other 16 other environmental, faith and community groups requesting that OSM step in to protect West Virginia’s destructive surface coal mining.

OSM promised to investigate only five of nineteen claims made in that petition. But over a year later, OSM has done nothing to remedy the dire situation in the coal fields of West Virginia.

Destruction in Appalachia

A mountain devastated by coal mining.  Photo credit: Vivian Stockman
A mountain devastated by coal mining. Photo credit: Vivian Stockman
Meanwhile, an extremely destructive mining process continues with little meaningful oversight.  The results are tragic.  Mountaintop removal involves leveling forests and then blowing the tops of mountains off to get at underneath coal seams.  The resulting “spoil” – or what was once a productive mountain environment – is then dumped into valley streams, burying them.

The waste from this “spoil” leaches toxic chemicals like selenium into downstream waters, poisoning and deforming aquatic wildlife like fish.  The chemicals are also toxic to humans.  With no forest or vegetation to store water from storms and snow-melt and the impacted area’s hydrology ruined, the risks of major flooding in valley communities greatly increases.

According to the EPA, since 1992, more than 1,200 miles of Appalachian streams have been permanently buried by surface coal mining practices, at an estimated ongoing rate of 120 miles per year. The approximated scale of deforestation from existing Appalachian surface mining operations is greater in size than the State of Delaware.

Action is Needed

Federal action is necessary.  The state of West Virginia has, for over a generation, failed to implement and enforce legal requirements that coal mining not damage the natural resources and communities of West Virginia.

As alleged in the notice, the state’s chronically poor oversight has included a persistent failure to conduct inspections meant to protect people and the environment from coal companies that operate outside the law. The notice also alleges that West Virginia has also failed to undertake required assessments to ensure streams, rivers and drinking-water wells aren’t harmed by mountaintop-removal mining and other destructive surface coal-mining practices.

West Virginia activist and project coordinator at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Vivian Stockman described the need for legal action:

The situation here could not be more urgent.  Under West Virginia’s program, we’ve seen once-vibrant streams die, devastating floods, and loved ones exposed to toxic blasting dust take ill. Mountaintop-removal coal mining has destroyed communities and threatens to destroy more.  We need OSM to take action now.

A successful lawsuit will help ensure that the law is followed in West Virginia.  And the law requires that coal companies clean up their act,  and not ravage the people and wildlife of the beautiful state of West Virginia.

Take ActionTake action at this pivotal moment! Urge President Obama to lead the defense of our air, lands and waters for wildlife.