Congratulations to the folks in the Seth-Prenter area who just settled their water pollution case against Alpha Natural Resources. Over 350 residents sued at the end of 2008, alleging their health had been damaged by wellwater contamination caused by slurry injection and irresponsible mining practices. After many failed attempts at mediation, a deal was reached just days before jury selection was set to begin. While the terms of the settlement are confidential, we hear that residents have been siginificantly compensated. What we do know is that all of the evidence from the lawsuit will stay public. This is so important. Too often in the coalfields these settlements come with restrictive gag orders that prevent citizens from talking about what happened at all. In the case, all the expert testimony and documents that prove that the coal industry poisoned Prenter are available – some in the SSP Research Library. This is a big victory for holding coal companies accountable for the damage they do in communities. However, the work in Prenter is far from over. While the majority of Prenter residents now have municipal water, there are 60 to 70 households at the head of the hollow with no safe source of drinking water. The Prenter Water Fund is also out of funding, and emergency water deliveries are no longer happening. Residents are working with the Boone County Commission to get funding for extending the water line, but they have seen little success. West Virginia American Water's announcement earlier this year that they would no longer fund new waterline construction is making it even harder. Their refusal to support these critically needed projects because their profit margins aren't high enough is appalling. This is another example of the dangers of letting private companies control essential human needs like drinking water.
Many Prenter residents feel that justice will not be truly served until no more communities are being put at risk of slurry contamination. There's good news on that front. Several plants in West Virginia have added dry presses over the last 2 years, creating a safer, dry waste stream; Alpha's Zigmond plant in Logan Co and Rockspring Development plant in Wayne Co. and Patriot's Blue Creek plant in Kanawha Co. On top of that, the most recently built plant in the state was built with filter presses. SSP has advocated for dry presses for years. Due to the tireless work of SSP and other concerned community groups, it is still currently impossible to get a new permit to “dispose” of slurry by underground injection in West Virginia. Only 5 plants still pump slurry underground in WV. It is also nearly impossible to get a new impoundment permit as well. With continued attention to impoundment stability issues, the federal Office of Surface Mining has imposed stringent restrictions on placing impoundments above underground mines. In the heavily mined areas of WV, the industry is having a tough time finding places to put new impoundments. On top of that, new impoundments must also get valley fill permits, which has become very difficult due to increased EPA oversight. With continued citizen pressure, we may yet see the end of wet slurry disposal.