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Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition v. Fola Coal Co.

ELR Citation: 44 ELR 20228
Nos. 2:13-5006, (S.D. W. Va., 09/30/2014) (Chambers, J.)

A district court denied a mining company's motion for partial judgment in a case filed against it for alleged CWA and SMCRA violations. Environmental groups alleged that the mine violated narrative water quality standards and, therefore, the CWA and the SMCRA, by discharging excessive amounts of ionic pollution, measured as conductivity and sulfates, into the waters of West Virginia in violation of its state and federal permits. The company moved for judgment on partial findings, arguing that the groups failed to present evidence showing that the company had discharged a pollutant. But the court disagreed, concluding that the character and quantity of evidence presented by the groups was sufficient to defeat a motion for judgment on partial findings. In alleging a CWA violation for discharge of alkaline mine drainage with high levels of conductivity and sulfates, the groups presented evidence showing that through a variety of methods and examining a range of data, numerous researchers have come to a generally consistent conclusion: high conductivity at central Appalachian sites associated with alkaline mine drainage is dominated by a unique mixture of ions and that particular variety of ionic pollution is known to cause or materially contribute to biological impairment. Thus, while conductivity may not generally be considered a pollutant, in this unique and well-studied region, it is a reasonable proxy for specific ionic pollutants known to cause violations of West Virginia’s narrative water quality standards.