"A federal judge has ordered Patriot Coal Corp. to spend millions of dollars to clean up selenium pollution at two surface coal mines in West Virginia.
Environmental groups said it was the first time a court had demanded restrictions on selenium, a trace mineral commonly discharged from Appalachian surface mines, where the tops of mountains are blown away to expose coal.
Too much selenium in streams kills or deforms fish and other aquatic life, and in high doses it can damage human health. Selenium is one of a number of contaminants — including arsenic, cadmium and lead — that are discharged from mining operations and also are found in coal ash and other wastes from coal-fired power plants.
The ruling, filed Wednesday, applied to only two mines. Environmental groups that are fighting the spread of mountaintop mining said that if it became a precedent, however, it might make some mines too expensive to operate.