San Juan Coal Company put on notice by Sierra Club
Farmington, NM: The Sierra Club today put the San Juan Coal Company on notice for failing to properly dispose of millions of tons of toxic coal ash and scrubber sludge each year. The San Juan Coal Company has dumped more than 40 million tons of coal combustion waste containing pollutants like arsenic, lead and mercury into massive unlined pits at the San Juan Mine, about 10 miles west of Farmington. As a result of the lack of safety precautions, toxins from the coal ash have leaked into nearby waterways and wells, endangering local residents, livestock, and wildlife.
“For years the San Juan Coal Company and others have dumped toxic waste into this mine without regard to what it was doing to those living downstream,” said R.G. “Squeek” Hunt, a local sheep farmer. Mr. Hunt’s water has been polluted by the dumping, causing illnesses in his family and killing hundreds of his sheep.
“Thank goodness for the Sierra Club. Finally somebody is going to make the mine accountable for its action.”
Testing has shown that the levels of arsenic, lead, selenium, uranium and many other toxins exceed safe levels in ground and surface water near the coal ash dump site. These pollutants have been shown to increase the risk of cancer, damage the nervous and reproductive systems, and cause other serious illnesses. Previous unsafe dumping of coal combustion waste near the San Juan coal plant caused significant damage, forcing the owners of the plant to pay over a million dollars in damages for livestock killed and families made sick by drinking contaminated water.
Mr. Hunt is testifying today before the US House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment about the sickness and loss of livelihood that his family endured as a result of this pollution. That and other congressional Committees are paying close attention to US EPA’s attempt to develop regulations for this waste.
“The ‘minefilling’ of coal combustion waste in the San Juan coal mine has made it one of the largest illegal open dumps in the national today,” said Jeff Stant of the Environmental Integrity Project. “These notice letters are putting the San Juan Coal Company and the owners of the San Juan coal plant on notice that dumping huge volumes of coal combustion waste every year into the San Juan Mine without meeting basic safeguards such as liners violates federal laws. It must end, and the San Juan Coal Company must cleanup the pollution it has caused.”
Over the past years coal companies have been increasingly dumping coal combustion waste in open coal mines, like the San Juan mine, as a way to avoid the costs of landfill disposal, liners, covers and monitoring to make sure toxins don’t leak out. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency has found that water supplies in 24 states have been contaminated from coal combustion waste that was disposed of without proper safeguards.
“Filling mines with toxic coal ash is clearly a growing problem and right now it is happening with very little, if any, oversight. Instead of fighting the EPA’s effort to develop responsible national rules to protect communities from the devastating impacts of coal ash, the Office of Surface Mining should be working with EPA and policing its own house,” said Lyndsay Moseley of the Sierra Club. “The San Juan Coal Company needs to be held accountable. It is past time for them to clean up their act.”
The Sierra Club is represented by attorneys Charlie Tebbutt, Walton Morris and the Western Environmental Law Center.