Appalachian Coal Companies Face Major Fines for Clean Water Act Violations

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 | Posted by Brian Sewell | 2 Comments

iron precipitate in right fork fugate creek below unpermitted fill and pondsTwo recent federal enforcement actions against major Appalachian coal companies, Alpha Natural Resources and Nally & Hamilton, are a positive sign. But can fining coal companies come close to solving the fundamental problem of water pollution that stems from mountaintop removal? [ More ]

West Virginia Patriot Slurry Spill MCHM Test Results

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 | Posted by Erin Savage | No Comments

PatriotSlurrySpill Preliminary water testing results from the February West Virginia coal slurry spill that blackened six miles of Fields Creek reveal that pollutants included MCHM, the coal-washing chemical that contaminated the drinking water of 300,0000 West Virginians in January. This finding is significant because state environmental officials appeared to be uncertain whether MCHM was involved — it seems that once more, polluting companies withheld important information from the public. [ More ]

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 ]

Another Coal-related Spill Reported in West Virginia

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014 | Posted by Jamie Goodman | 8 Comments

patriotspill-150px Early Tuesday morning there was a significant slurry spill at Patriot Coals Kanawah Eagle operation. Over 100,000 gallons of toxic coal slurry spilled into Fields Creek near Charleston, WV. Members of the Appalachian Water Watch team were at the site to investigate. [ More ]

Some Results, Few Conclusions in West Virginia’s Crude MCHM Spill

Thursday, February 6th, 2014 | Posted by Erin Savage | 1 Comment

water-crisis-solidarity Appalachian Voices’ Appalachian Water Watch team has received results from several locations impacted by the crude MCHM and PPH spill in Charleston, W.Va. While a superficial review of the results might seem to indicate that flushing individual water systems was effective in eliminating most of the MCHM from the pipes, when combined with additional data and personal observations from affected residents, the conclusions become less clear. [ More ]

Realities on the Ground in the West Virginia Water Crisis

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014 | Posted by Erin Savage | 4 Comments

wv_chemical_spill I checked Facebook early on the morning of January 9th, cursing my mild addiction to social media, and was suddenly glad that I had. I saw a news report of a chemical spill in Charleston, W.Va., which I quickly emailed to the rest of the staff at Appalachian Voices. I then packed a bag anticipating the potential to be gone for several days. I knew as little about what I might be doing through my work with Appalachian Water Watch as I did about what exactly had happened in Charleston. [ More ]

Fighting for Clean Water in Virginia: Standing up to Coal Industry Bullies

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Chance | 2 Comments

944745_10100206520223687_1797773733_n Today, Appalachian Voices along with our allies in Virginia filed a lawsuit against Penn Virginia, for water polluted by selenium coming from abandoned mines on their land. This lawsuit is one in a series of suits aimed at cleaning up selenium pollution in Callahan Creek. [ 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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EPA Helps Kentucky Roll Back Water Quality Protections

Friday, November 15th, 2013 | Posted by Erin Savage | 1 Comment

Above are blue gills that were collected below the site of TVA’s 2008 Kingston Coal Ash spill. They all have “pop-eye”, a deformity caused by selenium pollution where their eyes bulge out of their heads. These fish had selenium levels of 2.5-6.5ppm, well below Kentucky’s newly accepted standard of 8.6 ppm for fish tissue.

Just today, after several months of delays, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its decisions on the Kentucky Department of Water’s (DOW) amendments to the Kentucky Water Quality Regulations. Unfortunately, the EPA has approved substantive changes to the selenium freshwater chronic standard that will not adequately protect aquatic life and will be difficult, if not impossible to enforce at mountaintop removal coal mining sites throughout eastern Kentucky.

In theory, states review their water quality standards every three years in an effort to make sure these standards are up-to-date with current science and are protective of aquatic life. In some cases, however, the review becomes an opportunity for special interests to influence state agencies. This year, under pressure from the coal industry, the Kentucky DOW proposed to weaken selenium standards. Standards are used to set permit limits for industries that may discharge pollutants into public waterways. Though some mines in Kentucky are known to discharge selenium into streams, the Kentucky general permit for valley fills does not currently include selenium permit limits.

Selenium is a naturally occurring element that can be released into streams through mountaintop removal coal mining. Once in the water, selenium bioaccumulates in fish and other aquatic life, increasing in concentration up the food chain. Selenium is toxic to aquatic life at very low levels. For these reasons, Appalachian Voices and our allies have been working to challenge Kentucky’s proposed selenium standards.

Kentucky DOW proposed to raise the acute selenium standard from 20 ug/L in the water column to 258 ug/L in the water column. They also proposed changing the chronic standard of 5 ug/L to a more complicated system where a level of 5 ug/L in the water column would not be enforceable, but instead would trigger the need to sample fish tissue. The new chronic standard would be 8.6 ug/g in fish tissue, or 19.2 ug/g in egg/ovary tissue. The 5 ug/L water concentration would only be an enforceable limit if no fish were available for sampling.

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Concerns Grow Over the EPA’s Stance on Selenium Pollution

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 | Posted by Erin Savage | 3 Comments

Protect Appalachia's Waterways from Toxic Selenium Pollution

In February, we wrote about the new selenium water quality standards being proposed by the Kentucky Division of Water and urged concerned citizens to express their concern to the state. Now, Kentucky has gone ahead with its proposal, submitting the new standards to the EPA for review. While the EPA may deny Kentucky’s proposed standards, concerns are growing that the EPA, influenced by states beholden to their mining industries, may release its own inadequate standard. That is why we are urging people to tell EPA to stop Kentucky, and to require strong, enforceable standards in every state.

Kentucky High Selenium Coal Seems

Selenium is of particular concern in Kentucky and other Central Appalachian states because it is often released into streams through mountaintop removal coal mining and is toxic to aquatic life at very low levels. Even though many high-selenium coal seams are mined in Kentucky, companies typically claim there will be no selenium discharge when first applying for a permit, so that the pollutant is not included on the permit. Selenium has rarely been included on mining permits in Central Appalachia, effectively allowing companies to avoid monitoring or treating it, unless citizens force them to with lawsuits. A recent victory in a lawsuits over illegal selenium discharges from a Virginia surface mining operation indicates that selenium pollution is a widespread problem at mountaintop removal mines across Central Appalachia.

Kentucky has faced increased pressure from citizens and the EPA to include selenium standards on pollution discharge permits, so that water quality is adequately protected. Unfortunately for the coal companies, selenium is expensive to treat and difficult to keep out of streams impacted by surface mining in high-selenium coal seams. Adding selenium to permits would mean that many coal companies have to start paying for a much larger portion of the damage they create. It appears that the state is helping coal companies find a way to avoid responsibility for selenium discharges. By increasing the legal limit of selenium allowed in streams and including fish tissue-based standards that are difficult, if not impossible to enforce, the state will allow many companies to continue to skirt their responsibility to the land and the people of Kentucky.

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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

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