An environmental group said it tried to persuade owners of Greene County's Emerald Mine to cut discharges into a Waynesburg creek, and also asked regulators to act, before running out of patience and filing a lawsuit Monday.
"We don't take litigation lightly," said Patrick Grenter, executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, the group based in Washington, Pa., which filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court. "We had hundreds and hundreds of violations over the years with no meaningful action by the state and federal governments."
An executive of Alpha Natural Resources, of Bristol, Va., whose subsidiary owns the mine, said operators are already working with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Protection to improve water quality.
"They're looking at an active treatment system to reduce salt concentrations" in discharged water, wrote Alpha vice president Ted Pile in an email response to a phone call. "They plan on pilot testing different technologies in 2013, and design of the system will begin as well."
The longwall mine is just south of Waynesburg, and its drainage flows into South Fork, according to the lawsuit. That water eventually makes its way to the Monongahela River, it said.
The complaint said that from January through September of this year, discharges from the mine exceeded permitted amounts 121 times, allowing too much iron, manganese, aluminum and suspended solids into the water system. It said the company has violated its permits "more than 400 times in the last five years and failed to conduct or report required monitoring."
"Due to the chronic and persistent nature of these violations, there is more than a reasonable likelihood of ongoing permit violations in the future," the complaint said. The lawsuit said that Emerald should be ordered to stop the discharges, pay $37,500 per day to government regulators, and cover the center's legal fees and costs.
The metals and solids can kill fish, the complaint said.
"The types of exceedances we have seen over the last few years from Emerald do have a marked impact on wildlife," said Mr. Grenter.
The center is getting legal help from a Massachusetts-based attorney with the Earthrise Law Center.
In late October, the center warned Emerald, and informed the EPA and DEP, that it would sue if nothing was done to stem the discharges. Mr. Grenter said it isn't aware of any action by the company or the regulators since then.
Mr. Pile said the company was working with the agencies before the center threatened a lawsuit.
DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh said her agency and the EPA are working on a "global treatment plan" for Emerald Mine and the nearby Cumberland Mine.
Mr. Grenter said the company has been promising for years to reduce discharges. "We're tired of waiting for them to follow the law," he said.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord.