Alpha Natural Resources reached a first of its kind settlement with environmental groups over two of its mountain top mining operations in West Virginia, although the company was quick to caution that the settlement should not be viewed as an endorsement for research that claims waste from the operations is tainting waterways.
The Associated Press reported that the settlement addresses high conductivity discharges and gives Alpha until August 2019 to meet water quality cleanup marks. Conductivity is the ability of water to transfer electricity. High conductivity might signal presence of pollutants including sulfate, bicarbonate, magnesium and calcium.
The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Sierra Club — the groups that filed the complaint in 2012 — lauded the deal as a first-of-its-kind agreement.
Judge Robert Chambers has to approve the settlement filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Huntington. A Sierra Club news release said it also needs U.S. Department of Justice clearance.
In June, Chambers ruled Elk Run Coal and Alex Energy mines harmed aquatic life in Laurel Creek in Boone County and Robinson Fork in Nicholas County.
"Losing diversity in aquatic life, as sensitive species are extirpated and only pollution-tolerant species survive, is akin to the canary in a coal mine," Chambers wrote in his June decision.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Alpha's appeal in October.
Mountaintop mine operations blow up portions of mountains to unearth coal seams. Waste from the explosions is filled into valleys and streams, which can endure environmental damage.