2 lawsuits filed over runoff from reclaimed mines

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Environmentalists are going after the owners of two more former mountaintop removal mines in West Virginia, hoping to hold them responsible for water pollution from the sites.

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Sierra Club sued Pocahontas Land Corp. and Hernshaw Partners LLC in U.S. District Court in Huntington Wednesday over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.

The groups filed similar complaints over three other reclaimed mines last month.

The new complaints focus on two Mingo County operations, the former Southeast Ridge Mine and a former Chafin Branch Coal Co. site. The lawsuits say state and federal regulators are doing nothing to end water pollution from old surface mines after they've been cleaned up, graded and replanted with vegetation, so the landowners must be held accountable.

The litigation signals a new strategy from the environmental community, which has long sued coal companies over pollution but rarely sued after their operations are reclaimed and released from bonding and permit requirements

The groups say they're trying to focus attention on the "full life cycle" of mines to dispel the myth that they no longer threaten the environment when they're done producing coal.

Pocahontas Land Corp. of Bluefield is a subsidiary of Virginia-based Norfolk Southern Corp., which has said it won't comment on pending litigation.

Directory assistance had no listing Wednesday for Hernshaw Partners, based in Gilbert.

The complaints ask a judge to stop the unpermitted discharges and to fine the defendants $37,500 per day for each violation.

They also demand monitoring and sampling programs to gauge the damage that's been done, and restoration programs once that's been determined.