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Yesterday was a banner day in the fight to make surface mining safer for our environment. In the Southern District of West Virginia, Judge Robert Chambers held Patriot Coal in contempt as a result of Patriot’s failure to follow an earlier "compliance" order. The case was initially filed by Public Justice on behalf of the Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and Coal River Mountain Watch. At issue was the discharge of toxic selenium from two of Patriot’s West Virginia coal mines.

Selenium is a toxic element that causes reproductive changes in fish and other life forms that inhabit rivers and which is discharged from surface mining operations throughout Appalachia.

In yesterday’s ruling, Judge Chambers ordered patriot to build an advanced pollution control system known as a fluidized bed reactor treatment facility to remove the selenium and to complete the construction within the next two and one-half years. To make sure this facility is built, Judge Chambers also ordered Patriot to post a $45 million letter of credit (an estimate of what the cost of construction will be).

One reason this is such a huge win is that coal companies have claimed for years that there is simply no way to treat the selenium that has been coming out of their mines.

This case is just a part of Public Justice’s Environmental Enforcement Project which uses citizen suits and other litigation to force compliance with the environmental laws and make polluters pay. For more information about Public Justice’s Environmental Enforcement Project, click here.

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