WV HOUSE BILL ALLOWS EXCLUSIONS FROM FEDERAL REGULATIONS FOR COAL OPERATORS SELENIUM DISCHARGES - Whose First? 'Bugs Or People', Massey Official Points Finger At Blankenship

(03/02/2013)

The West Virginia House is considering a bill that would allow the state to disregard federal recommendations and set its own standards for how much selenium can be discharged from coal mines.

Jason Bostic, a spokesman for the West Virginia Coal Association, said that West Virginia's steep mountain streams and above average rainfall allow the state to handle higher levels of selenium.

Tom Clarke, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection said, "People are larger and much more complex organisms than some of the organisms living in our streams and therefore are capable of absorbing and ingesting higher concentrations of selenium without being harmed."

Del. Rupert Phillips, the bill's sponsor, said that he didn't want the EPA or any group outside of West Virginia setting selenium levels for the state.

"You've got two different worlds, bugs and people, so you know people first," Phillips said. "I'll fight for the coal industry until I'm dead."

Meanwhile, a longtime subordinate of ex-Massey Energy chief Don Blankenship publicly implicated his boss for the first time Thursday in what appears to be a widespread corporate practice of warning coal miners about surprise inspections.

At a federal hearing in which he pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy, former White Buck Coal Co. president David Hughart pointed the finger at Blankenship.

The charges against Hughart grew from federal prosecutors' continuing investigation of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, a 2010 explosion that killed 29 Massey miners.

Government investigators cited Massey Energy for failing to report more than 20 accidents at its Upper Big Branch coal mine in the two years before the explosion.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration said four of the alleged violations directly involve the tragic explosion.

Massey Coal amassed an estimated $2.4 billion dollars worth of fines, which were settled for $20 million.

In some cases Massey discharged pollution in amounts 40 times the permitted limits.

Massey had a long history of not paying fines and non-compliance with water pollution to West Virginia streams and safety violations.


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