By Nadia Ramlagan
West Virginia environmental groups have sued the Forest Service for failing to protect streams in the Cherry River watershed from the impacts of coal hauling in the Monongahela National Forest.
The watershed is home to the critically endangered candy darter, a freshwater fish striped in bright green and orange. But environmentalists say trucks brimming with coal are spilling harmful sediment and pollutants into its waters.
Rick Webb, executive director of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, said his organization has created a website that tracks environmental issues related to coal mining and the watershed.
“And one of the things we’ve shown is there has been an impact to water quality due to mining, sulfate concentrations or high conductivity or salinity is high. Iron is high. Selenium is high,” he cautioned.
In 2021, the Forest Service issued a permit allowing South Fork Coal Company to haul oversized coal loads, cut trees, and regrade and widen forest roads. The permit also allows the company to haul mining supplies, equipment and explosives on F.S. 223, a gravel road along a direct tributary to North Fork Cherry River.
Webb said the lawsuit argues that the permits to haul coal violate federal environmental laws.
“Our concern is that the Forest Service has issued a permit for using this road for hauling coal without following the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act,” Webb contended.
According to the group Appalachian Voices, South Fork Coal Company has received permits to operate on nearly 3,300 acres in the region over the past decade. In recent years, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has issued the company dozens of citations for violating environmental regulations.