KY and NC: Different States, Same Recipe for Lax Clean Water Enforcement

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Chance | 4 Comments

Yesterday there was a hearing in Franklin Circuit Court for our ongoing challenge of a weak settlement that the state of Kentucky reached with Frasure Creek Mining. The settlement is a slap on the wrist that lets them off the hook for thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act, and it bears a striking resemblance to the settlement between North Carolina and Duke Energy that has come under scrutiny after their recent coal ash spill into the Dan River. [ More ]

Appalachian Voices and Partners Challenge Kentucky’s Weakening of Water Pollution Standards for Selenium

Friday, December 13th, 2013 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

This two headed trout was deformed by selenium pollution. Today, we have taken action to keep EPA and Kentucky from allowing pollution like this to get worse.

Earlier today Appalachian Voices and a number of partner organizations sued the EPA over their approval of Kentucky’s new, weaker standard for selenium pollution.

Selenium is extremely toxic to fish, and causes deformities and reproductive failure at extremely low levels. The pollutant is commonly discharged from coal mines and coal ash ponds, but currently Kentucky does not regulate its discharge from these facilities.

These new standards were proposed at the behest of coal industry groups, likely motivated by citizen groups’ success at requiring companies in other states to clean up their selenium pollution. We have also seen the state governments of Virginia and West Virginia take steps towards making similar rollbacks to their own standards, making the EPA’s approval of Kentucky’s weakened standards even more alarming.

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A Great Day for Virginia Streams

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Two headed trout, a result of selenium pollution. Courtesy of USFWS.

Yesterday, advocates for clean water won a major court victory in Virginia. Under a court order, A&G Coal will be the first coal company in Virginia required to get a permit for their discharges of toxic selenium. U.S. District Judge James P. Jones ruled that because the company did not tell regulators that they might discharge selenium, their permit does not allow them to.

Selenium is a common pollutant at many Appalachian coal mines and is toxic to fish at very low levels, causing deformities, reproductive failure and death.

The case was brought by the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices, represented by Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

>> Read the press release to find out more
>> Read the judge’s ruling here

Court Victory for Clean Water in Kentucky: The Battle Continues

Friday, July 19th, 2013 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Acidic mine water being discharged from one of Frasure Creek’s Kentucky coal mines

Last week, an attempt by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to toss concerned citizens out of court failed.

Judge Phillip Shepherd denied a motion to dismiss our challenge of a settlement between Frasure Creek Mining and the cabinet. Appalachian Voices and our partners KFTC, Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance, will now be allowed to proceed with our argument that the settlement should be vacated.

In October of 2010, we filed a Notice of Intent to Sue Frasure Creek for submitting false water monitoring data. Frasure Creek and the cabinet reached a settlement for those violations, but it has not been approved by the court. Before that, the data Frasure Creek submitted to the state never showed any violations. After our legal action, they switched labs and began showing hundreds of water quality violations every month.

We attempted to sue Frasure Creek for these subsequent violations, but the cabinet filed a complaint in state administrative court for the same violations. We intervened and became full parties to that case, but then a slap on the wrist settlement was entered between Frasure Creek and the cabinet completely without our consent. Our current challenge to this settlement is based on the fact that we are full parties in the case yet we had no say in the settlement’s creation.

The cabinet attempted to get our challenge thrown out because they claimed that we did not follow proper procedures when we filed it, but the judge dismissed their arguments. Now, the cabinet must respond to the substance of our challenge.

>> Click here to read the ruling
>> Click here to read more about this challenge
>> Click here for more information on our Kentucky Litigation

Appalachian Voices and Partners Challenge Kentucky’s Backroom Deal With Coal Company

Friday, May 17th, 2013 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Watercolors by Frasure Creek. State inspector's photos show a variety of colors of water at Frasure Creek mines.

Yesterday, Appalachian Voices and our partner organizations filed a “petition for review”, essentially an appeal of a settlement between Frasure Creek Mining and the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. This settlement lets Frasure Creek off the hook for thousands of water quality violations over the past two years, while doing little to ensure that the company fixes its water quality problems.

Our challenge of this settlement focuses on the way in which it came about. But first, a bit of background.

We have a separate case that is ongoing against Frasure Creek for submitting false water monitoring data (entire reports were duplicated and only the dates were changed). After we uncovered this problem the company began turning in more accurate reports, which for the first time showed lots of pollution problems. We then filed a second suit against Frasure Creek for thousands of these pollution problems (which had been hidden by reporting problems before our first suit). Then the cabinet also filed a complaint for these pollution violations and more like them in state administrative court (a court run by the cabinet itself).

We intervened in that case and became full parties to it, but were then shut out of it completely. In fact the settlement was entered despite our previous objections, and there is no evidence that our objections were even considered. The cabinet and Frasure Creek negotiated a settlement completely without us. The law and common sense both dictate that an agreement is not valid unless all the parties involved agree to it, and that is the basis for our challenge of this settlement yesterday.

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Kentucky’s Lab Certification- Is it strong enough?

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Yesterday, Appalachian Voices submitted public comments on a proposed wastewater lab certification program in Kentucky. To discharge polluted water, coal companies must receive a permit under the Clean Water Act. This permit that requires companies to test wastewater and report the data to ensure it falls within the limits of the permit. In Kentucky, there are currently no standards for labs that do this type of testing.

The proposed certification program is a direct result of the lawsuits for falsified water monitoring data we filed against three of the state’s largest coal mining companies. Our investigation revealed that many coal companies were repeatedly submitting the same data and knowingly leaving out reports of any violations of their permits. After we filed these lawsuits, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet inspected the labs being used for this monitoring and found that in many cases they were not even capable of correctly performing the required tests.

This graph shows some of the inaccurate data submitted by Frasure Creek Mining before our lawsuits lead them to start using a new lab. Click to enlarge.

We believe that enforcing standards on labs used by coal companies will help ensure that labs report accurate data, and that the regulations meant to protect water and those that depend on it from dangerous pollution are effectively enforced. This proposed rule will be a big step forward and we have applauded the cabinet for its efforts to fix these problems. However, there are several weaknesses in the rule that we hope are fixed before it is finalized.

All too often the cabinet has failed to live up to its obligations to protect the people and environment in Kentucky. That is why our comments suggest that discretionary duties given to the cabinet in this rule be made mandatory. Appalachian Voices will continue to work to require the state agencies to actually enforce these standards.

>>Click here to see our comments
>>Click here to read the proposed lab certification rule
>>Click here to read the draft lab manual

Appalachain Voices and Partners Object to Backroom Deal With Kentucky Coal Company

Monday, February 4th, 2013 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Frasure Creek owner, and billionaire, Ravi Ruia's yacht. Note the matching helicopter! Frasure Creek Mining is apparently on the verge of bankruptcy, but it's owners seem to be doing just fine. Click the image to learn more about the boat.

A coalition of citizens’ groups including Appalachian Voices filed objections to a proposed settlement between Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet and one of the state’s largest coal mining companies, Frasure Creek Mining. The agreement would legally resolve over a thousand water pollution violations from 2011 and 2012 at all of Frasure Creek’s mines across Eastern Kentucky, but the agreement will not fix the pollution problems.

Despite the fact that we are full parties to this enforcement action, this agreement was crafted entirely behind closed doors without us. Over and over again the cabinet has made every effort to exclude us and aid polluters. One of our objections to this settlement is that it has violated our right to due process since our names are on this agreement yet we had no say in it whatsoever.

Some of Frasure Creek's false conductivity values

Even more alarming, we expect that if this agreement is entered the cabinet will likely try to argue that this makes another ongoing case that we are involved in moot. That case is primarily based on blatantly false water monitoring reports submitted by Frasure Creek. Prior to that legal action, Frasure never admitted having pollution problems like the ones at issue in this case. It was not until they came under increased scrutiny, following our initial court filing, that they began reporting more truthful water monitoring data, uncovering the pollution violations at issue in this settlement.

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Kentucky Governor Under Suit for Pro-Coal Corruption

Friday, October 19th, 2012 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear

Former Mine Permits director Ron Mills claims he was fired for failing to sign illegal coal mining permits.

Mills was a political appointee of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, whose official website states:

As governor, Beshear has helped restore public trust by creating a culture of integrity in state government that has included rooting out cronyism and implementing stronger ethics standards.

Click below to read the recent Lexington Herald Leader stories:
>>Trial delayed again in case that probes coal’s influence on Beshear
>>Beshear trying to settle lawsuit brought by former mine permits director

Landmark Settlement Proposed in Kentucky Water Pollution Case

Friday, October 5th, 2012 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Appalachian Voices, along with a coalition of citizens’ groups, has reached a historic agreement with International Coal Group, Inc. (ICG), and the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet over years of false reporting and water pollution violations in Eastern Kentucky and a failure by the state to enforce the Clean Water Act.

We are very glad to achieve this settlement which will help clean up pollution in streams throughout the coal-impacted region, and we are proud to have worked with our partners in this important case that has already yielded changes in the coal industry and state regulatory agencies. The agreement was filed today in Franklin County Circuit Court and needs to be approved by the judge before taking effect.

Read our press release to find out more about the settlement.

In 2010, we uncovered dozens of pollution monitoring reports submitted by ICG and Frasure Creek Mining to the cabinet that were clearly false. Our analysis showed that some reports included all the same data as previous reports, but the dates had been changed. In other cases, there were multiple and contradictory reports for the same discharge point. Not only were the reports inaccurate, they were masking major pollution problems, as can be seen in the graphs below.

ICG Knott Conductivity

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Court Update on Frasure Creek and ICG Clean Water Act Cases

Monday, July 16th, 2012 | Posted by Erin Savage | No Comments

A status conference was held today regarding the Clean Water Act enforcement lawsuits against Kentucky coal mining companies, Frasure Creek and International Coal Group (ICG). The conference was ordered by Judge Phillip Shepherd, of the Franklin Circuit Court in Kentucky, to update the court on progress made toward settlement in both cases.

Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Waterkeeper Alliance, Kentucky Riverkeeper, and four individuals originally gave notice of intent to sue both companies in 2010 and 2011 for more than 24,000 violations of the Clean Water Act. In response, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet filed its own enforcement against the companies and negotiated a settlement to resolve the violations in December of 2010. Appalachian Voices and its partners intervened in the state enforcement to challenge the settlement, which, among other deficiencies, inadequately fined the companies less than 1% of allowable fines under the law. In April of this year, the Kentucky Supreme Court set legal precedent by affirming the rights of Appalachian Voices and our partners to intervene in the state’s enforcement.

The last hearing in these cases in the Franklin Circuit Court, held in September 2011, allowed parties to present evidence on whether the state’s proposed settlement was “fair, adequate, reasonable, and in the public interest.” After that hearing, Judge Shepherd ordered the parties back to mediation. Settlement talks with both companies have been ongoing since January of this year.

In preparation for today’s conference, Judge Shepherd ordered Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, Bruce Scott, to submit an affidavit detailing the status of the department’s budget and staffing. Further summary of responses by the Cabinet and Bruce Scott can be found here and here.

After hearing from the parties today, Judge Shepherd indicated that he is prepared to make a ruling on the original state settlements with the companies, but will give the parties 60 days to complete negotiation of a new settlement.

Appalachian Voices and its partners continue to work diligently to reach settlements that will be in the best interest of the people and waterways of Eastern Kentucky.

Official EPA Comments on 36 Ky Permits

Thursday, June 28th, 2012 | Posted by Pallavi Podapati | No Comments

Appalachian Voices submitted official comments following the EPA’s public hearing on June 2nd and 4th. Our comments affirm the EPA’s objections to 36 water pollutant discharge permits for surface mines in Kentucky. The 36 draft permits were issued by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.

Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA must ensure state compliance with clean water laws to protect public health and the environment. Our official comments explain why we agree with the EPA’s decision, and address misinformation and additional problems with the permits.

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KY Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Citizens and Water

Friday, April 27th, 2012 | Posted by Eric Chance | 1 Comment

Yesterday the Kentucky State Supreme Court ruled in favor of Appalachian Voices and our partners KFTC, Waterkeeper and the Kentucky Riverkeeper. The ruling upheld lower court rulings allowing us to intervene in a lawsuit between Frasure Creek Mining and the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.

That case was brought about in October 2010 when we filed a Notice of Intent to Sue against Frasure Creek Mining, and International Coal Group (Now an Arch Coal subsidiary) for 20,000 violations of the Clean Water Act with potential penalties of over $700 million. The bulk of these violations relate to false and potentially fraudulent reporting of water pollution levels. Under the Clean Water Act companies have limits on the amount of pollution they are allowed to release, and they are required to monitor their pollution to make sure they meet these limits.

In an effort to keep us from being able to bring a case in federal court, the coal companies reached settlements with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, but those settlements needed to be approved by a state court. The settlements amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist; they have minimal fines and no meaningful measures to ensure that the same problems will not continue. Through the citizen suit provision of the Clean Water Act, citizen are allowed to participate in legal actions to protect public waters. Using this provision, we intervened in the state court case in order to argue that the state’s settlement was not fair, adequate and in the public interest.

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