Groups Settle with National Coal for Reports on Selenium Discharges

Tennessee Clean Water Network, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, and the Sierra Club Tennessee Chapter have reached a settlement agreement with National Coal Corporation over a lawsuit the groups filed regarding the company's discharges of selenium (pdf) from the company's Zeb Mountain mountaintop removal mine without a permit.

The suit claimed that National Coal's permit under the Clean Water Act did not authorize selenium discharges.

According to a press release from the groups, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) issued a new draft permit after the suit was filed that would, for the first time, authorize selenium discharges but impose stringent limits on the amount of those discharges. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, during the period prior to issuance of a final permit by TDEC, National Coal will be required to monitor its selenium pollution and report these results to TDEC and to the three organizations.

"This is an important victory in our efforts to keep Tennessee's streams and waterways clean and free of mining pollution," said Renée Hoyos, executive director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network. "Coal companies need to know that they can't just dump toxic pollutants like selenium into our waters."

National Coal will also provide $40,000 to the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation for the acquisition and protection of property in the Clear Fork or Cumberland River watersheds.

"This is a positive step in efforts to protect Tennessee's headwaters on Zeb Mountain. The settlement will allow us to keep better track of National Coal's discharges," said Cathie Bird, Strip-mine Committee chair for Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM). "It is also nice to know that another parcel of land in eastern Tennessee will be protected for the people of the state and not subjected to disturbance from surface mining."

Selenium, a toxic element that causes reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life, is discharged from many surface coal mining operations across Appalachia, and is commonly found in coal combustion byproducts like coal ash.
The groups filed their lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee in October 2008. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas W. Phillips entered the settlement and closed the case on Sept. 3.