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West Virginia federal ruling upheld in pollution case appeal

Posted January 5

— A federal appeals court panel has upheld a ruling that coal operators in West Virginia have to follow government water pollution limits.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that a state water pollution permit did not shield Fola Coal Co. from the water quality standards, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported (http://bit.ly/2iCcAqb). The panel said West Virginia rules incorporated the standards into the Department of Environmental Protection permit.

The ruling Wednesday upheld a decision two years ago from U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers. The appeals panel said Chambers' ruling reflected "careful fact-based findings" and that Fola's arguments against it failed.

Chambers' ruling concerned ionic pollution — salts and dissolved solids -- that scientists, environmental groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have found seriously harmed streams in the Appalachian coalfields. Scientists use electrical conductivity to help detect the pollutants.

The case is one of several that the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Sierra Club have brought in response to increased concern about conductivity pollution, an issue that the Obama administration's Environmental Protection Agency raised in its effort to more strictly regulate mountaintop removal mining.

"It's very important and it sets a precedent for restoration of the state's waters and hopefully prevents future approval of discharges of conductivity in violation of the water quality standards," said Joe Lovett, an Appalachian Mountain Advocates attorney who represented citizen groups in the case.

Fola Coal offered no comment on the 4th Circuit ruling.

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