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Federal lawsuit alleges Greene Co. coal miner pollutes creeks

| Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, 11:06 a.m.

A Washington County-based citizens group said Monday that it stepped in to enforce federal clean water laws against a Greene County coal operation because state mining regulators failed to do so.

The Center for Coalfield Justice in Washington claims in a federal lawsuit that Emerald Coal Resources LP of Waynesburg exceeded state and federal water pollution limits at least 400 times in the past five years.

Joanne Kilgour, legal director for the group, said the state Department of Environmental Protection all but ignored the violations.

“They could have taken an enforcement action,” she said. “They have all the information we have about the violations.”

DEP spokesman John Poister declined comment.

Emerald Coal Resources, a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources Inc. of Bristol, Va., operates a longwall mine and coal preparation plant in Franklin Township.

The center's lawsuit claims the mining operation pollutes several tributaries of Whiteley and the South Fork of Tenmile Creek, which feed into the Monongahela River. The center wants an injunction to block the company from operating unless it could stay within pollution limits set in its permits.

Tom Pile, a company spokesman, said Emerald Coal Resources is working to fix the problem.

“We're looking at an active treatment system to reduce salt concentrations,” he said. “We'll be pilot-testing different technologies in 2013, and design of the system will begin as well.”

Federal law required the group to file a notice with the company, the DEP and the Environmental Protection Agency 60 days before filing the lawsuit.

Kilgour said the group filed those notices and didn't hear from the agencies or the company about a planned fix for the pollution.

“If they have those plans in place, that's not something we have information about,” she said.

The group filed the lawsuit on Monday at the request of residents who are concerned about the pollution, she said.

Veronica Coptis, 25, of Carmichaels said she became reluctant to fish in Tenmile Creek because of the pollution.

“You should be able to go to your local stream and catch the trout without having to worry about what pollutants you're feeding your family,” she said.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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