Clean Water Act and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act

Jeff Young / Ohio Valley ReSource

The Sierra Club and a coalition of West Virginia-based environmental groups took the first step Tuesday toward taking legal action against companies operating 15 coal facilities and one chloride plant in West Virginia and Pennsylvania for violating the Clean Water Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

A 40-year-old Federal Law Literally Changed the Appalachian Landscape

Aug 5, 2017
Kara Leigh Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Forty years ago, President Jimmy Carter signed a law that literally changed the face of Appalachia.

The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) was intended to replace a state-to-state patchwork of rules for strip-mining with a uniform federal standard. Four decades later, however, environmentalists say the law has fallen far short of its potential.

“Massive destruction, massive explosives -- and only 300 feet away from someone’s home,” said Thom Kay, legislative associate at Appalachian Voices. “What is SMCRA doing if that’s still allowed?”

  A federal judge has ruled that two Alpha Natural Resources mountaintop removal mines in southern West Virginia illegally polluted streams.

U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers in Huntington ruled Wednesday that the Elk Run Coal and Alex Energy mines harmed aquatic life in Laurel Creek and Robinson Fork.

Chambers wrote it's a "canary in the coal mine" that aquatic life diminished, as only pollution-tolerant species survived. Penalties are undetermined.