By Sarah Vogelson
May 11, 2022 - Three environmental groups announced Tuesday that they plan to sue one of the coal companies owned by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice over its failure to clean up three mines in Wise County.
On May 10, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Appalachian Voices and the Sierra Club sent Justice notification that his A&G Coal Corporation “is in ongoing and continuing violation of certain federal and state regulations.”
The violations identified by the three groups are linked to surface mining operations at the Looney Ridge Surface Mine #1, the Sawmill Hollow #3 Mine and the Canepatch Surface Mine.
All three mines are located in Wise County.
Dan Radmacher, a spokesperson with Appalachian Voices, said the 60-day notification is a legal requirement under the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, a landmark 1977 law regulating the environmental impacts of coal mining.
Photo by Chelsea Barnes, Appalachian Voices
The Virginia Department of Energy has issued numerous notices of violation to A&G Coal over the years, and in 2014 the company was one of seven Justice family companies to enter into a compliance agreement with the state requiring the clean up of multiple mine sites, including two of the three currently at issue.
The agency wrote it had “become concerned about timely abatement of violations issued to the Justice companies’ permits, timely payment of outstanding civil penalties associated with the violations … and the Justice companies’ level of commitment to perform reclamation and maintenance at both active and inactive permit sites.”
Since then, the agreement has been amended several times but the sites have still not been fully reclaimed, the term used by regulators for environmental cleanup. The third mine the environmental groups have identified as a subject of their lawsuit was added to the compliance agreement in 2019.
The three groups preparing to sue A&G said in a statement Tuesday that “almost no reclamation progress” has occurred at any of the three mine sites.
“Mines need to be reclaimed in a timely manner because delays have real consequences,” said Matt Hepler, an environmental scientist with Appalachian Voices in the same statement. “As mines sit idle, conditions on the mine can deteriorate, ultimately making cleanup more expensive, and creating potential hazards for communities who live under the mine.”