Black Diamond Coal Mine Agrees to Permanent Closure - Puget Soundkeeper Alliance

Litigation settlement with Puget Soundkeeper will end seven years of illegal water pollution activities at the long-closed coal mine.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – JULY 1, 2021

Media Contact: Katelyn Kinn, Staff Attorney (katelyn@pugetsoundkeeper.org)

BLACK DIAMOND, WA. Pacific Coast Coal Company (PCCC) today agreed to a legal settlement with Puget Soundkeeper requiring permanent closure of the John Henry Number 1 Coal Mine located in Black Diamond, WA. This settlement resolves a Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by Puget Soundkeeper against PCCC in 2020 alleging that PCCC violated the Clean Water Act over at least the last seven years, impacting water quality in vital lakes and creeks that serve as source waters for the Green River, and, ultimately, the Duwamish River and Puget Sound.

Soundkeeper brought this lawsuit, filed in 2020, after discovering that PCCC had been discharging industrial stormwater to Green River tributaries without a valid permit for nearly seven years, had failed to implement required pollution controls, and was violating water pollution limits for phosphorous, manganese, and copper. Today’s consent decree, filed in federal court, commits the corporation to closing the facility, permanently.

The legal settlement also requires payment of $5,000 to Mid Sound Fisheries Enhancement Group for a restoration project to improve water quality within the Soos Creek basin.

“Coal mining operations pose serious water pollution risks both during operation and for many years after closure,” said Sean Dixon, Puget Soundkeeper’s Executive Director. “Even closed mines must follow the law – failure to do so not only endangers the ecosystem but puts public health at risk. We stand with all of the communities who have long been impacted by this facility and are thankful to bid final farewell to the John Henry Coal Mine.”

The Puget Sound watershed is an interconnected web of creeks, streams, and rivers flowing like freshwater veins toward the open waters of the Sound itself. Stormwater from the mine flows to Ginder Lake, Lake Sawyer, Rock Creek and Lake 12, which, in turn, drain to Covington Creek and Big Soos Creek – tributaries to the Green River and ultimately Duwamish River and Elliott Bay. Pollution in these upstream tributaries – especially pollution from coal mine industrial sites – affects habitat, water quality, and public health throughout the watershed.

The 480-acre open pit coal mine has not operated actively since 1999. Until Soundkeeper’s litigation was filed, PCCC had kept the option of renewed mining on the table. Black Diamond community members have been concerned in recent years to receive notices that PCCC was resuming mining and blasting at the site. Those concerns can now be put to rest with the mine’s permanent closure and reclamation.

Mine reclamation is a process overseen by the federal Office of Surface Mining & Reclamation by which mined land is restored and returned to a sustainable ecosystem. Reclamation for open pit mines includes machinery and equipment removal, land stabilization and resurfacing, and topsoil replacement and revegetation. This process is now underway at the John Henry mine. With today’s settlement, there are no active coal mining operations in WA State.

“We’re glad PCCC was willing to work with us on this final settlement that will help the community – and the source waters of the Green River – finally close the chapter on this site’s water pollution legacy,” said Katelyn Kinn, Staff Attorney at Puget Soundkeeper.

Puget Soundkeeper is an environmental non-profit whose mission is to protect and preserve the waters of Puget Sound. Since 1984, Soundkeeper has filed over 200 legal actions and directed funds from successful settlements back into impacted watersheds and communities. Puget Soundkeeper was represented in this matter by Meredith Crafton and Richard Smith at Smith & Lowney, PLLC and Soundkeeper’s Staff Attorney Katelyn Kinn.

Images courtesy of Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and Washington State Department of Ecology (public records)