Citizens Take Action Against Coal Company For Clean Water Act Violations

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A citizens group in Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit against Emerald Coal Resources LP (ECR) for polluting waterways in their state.  ECR operates a coalfield in Waynesburg, which is the focus of the suit.

The suit is being handled by The Center For Coalfield Justice, and alleges that ECR committed numerous violations of the Clean Water Act over the last five years, with those violations greatly intensifying in the last 12 months.

Huffington Post has the specifics on the suit:

The lawsuit contends Emerald Coal has violated pollution levels for iron, manganese, aluminum and other pollutants more than 120 times in the past 12 months and more than 400 times in the past five years. The group is basing those claims on violations the company has been self-reporting to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection under Emerald’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit as part of the federal Clean Water Act.

The Center for Coalfield Justice said that they had attempted to reach an amicable resolution to the violations with ECR, but that the company was less than willing to cooperate.  As such, the group felt that a lawsuit would be the only way to force the company to comply with federal laws.

The Clean Water Act allows for citizens to sue when corporations have violated the law, provided they give the federal government 60 days notice. The Center for Coalfield Justice has followed that protocol

The suit was filed in federal court in the Western District of Pennsylvania.  This particular federal court is fairly even-handed, with an equal number of conservative and liberal appointments on the bench.  However, the makeup of the panel hearing the case has yet to be determined, and could easily sway the outcome.

But the suit does more than highlight the crimes of the coal industry; it also highlights the complete failure of both the state and federal regulatory agencies.  The Center for Coalfield Justice has made ECR’s own records the basis of their case, meaning that the government was well aware of the deeds of the company, yet chose to do nothing to enforce the law.  If the court sides in favor of the citizens, the government will be forced to act in the matter.

If the court sides with the plaintiffs, ECR could be forced to pay $37,500 per day for the violations, along with additional cleanup costs, fines, court costs, and other penalties.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his articles have appeared on The Huffington Post, Alternet, and The Progressive Magazine. He has worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, and Sam Seder since August 2004, and is currently the co-host and producer of the program. He also currently serves as the co-host of Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV, a daily program airing nightly at 8:30pm eastern. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.

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