Coal-related Spills Connect Us All

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 | Posted by Tom Cormons | 4 Comments

moormans_river_va Over the last several weeks, with each report from West Virginia or North Carolina of a coal-related water pollution crisis, I couldn't help but imagine my favorite river, the Moormans, being poisoned by a mysterious chemical called MCHM, choked by toxic coal ash, or fouled by coal slurry. In fact, it is my river that is threatened. And your river, too. But our shared connection to the creeks and rivers running through our lives unites us in the fight to protect our waters, and that’s what gives me hope. [ 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 ]

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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The Clock is Ticking on Coal Ash: EPA Given 60 Days to Set Deadline on Regulation of Toxic Coal Waste

Thursday, October 31st, 2013 | Posted by Brian Sewell | No Comments

This week, a federal court gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 60 days to propose a deadline for rules regulating toxic coal ash. Photo from southeastcoalash.org

This week, a federal court gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 60 days to propose a deadline for rules regulating toxic coal ash. Photo from southeastcoalash.org

After years of delays and setbacks, the clock is finally ticking on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to propose a deadline for federal regulations of coal ash.

On Tuesday, a federal judge gave the EPA 60 days to file a written submission setting forth a proposed deadline for its review and revision of regulations concerning coal ash, along with its legal justification for the proposed deadline.

This victory for clean water and healthy communities came almost month after the court sided with Appalachian Voices and our allies, agreeing that the EPA has a duty to stop the delays and issue federally enforceable safeguards for the toxic coal waste. You can read the memorandum issued this week by the court here.

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In Defense of the Earth: An Appalachian Poet’s Presence

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013 | Posted by Brian Sewell | 3 Comments

Stream “Wendell Berry, Poet & Prophet” below or watch it on Moyers & Company by clicking here.

Widely celebrated as a caretaker of the culture and myth of rural America, Wendell Berry has a distinct drawl and speaks like he writes, eloquently but with simple words and equal parts conviction and compassion. Beyond being a renowned poet and author, Berry is an abiding presence in the environmental movement — especially among those of us who live in or love Appalachia.

A new presentation by Moyers & Company, “Wendell Berry, Poet & Prophet,” provides a portrait of the literary icon’s growth and influence, his relationship with the land and his hopes for humanity.

Among the topics covered — industrialization, wealth inequality, the indifference of elected leaders to environmental degradation — is Berry’s anti-mountaintop removal activism, and his participation in a four-day sit-in at the Kentucky governor’s office to protest mountaintop removal.

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Of Loincloths and Lean-Tos: The Fight To Protect NC’s Water

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 | Posted by Sandra Diaz | No Comments

According to N.C. DENR Secretary John Skvarla, if you love clean air and water, here's the dress code.

According to N.C. DENR Secretary John Skvarla, if you love clean air and water, this is your dress code.

Out of the many things that were targeted in the North Carolina legislature, water quality took a huge hit. Not only did the state budget call for the consolidation of the Division of Water Quality and Division of Water Resources, it slashed the two agencies combined budget by more than 12 percent.

And there is the curious case of John Skvarla, the secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources who has derided his own agency as an “eco-enforcer” before he came onboard.

At a luncheon for the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank, he claimed to not have a position on climate change since he’s not a scientist, and stated that if environmentalists had their way, “we would live in lean-tos and wear loincloths.”

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North Carolina Sues Duke Energy Over Coal Ash Pollution, Again

Monday, August 19th, 2013 | Posted by Brian Sewell | No Comments

Where is the line? N.C. regulators say they're proactive on coal ash, while the Gov. Pat McCrory sits on a bill to weaken state standards and protect polluters from future lawsuits.

Where is the line? N.C. regulators say they’re proactive on coal ash, while Gov. Pat McCrory sits on a bill to weaken state standards and protect polluters from future lawsuits.

In recent months, but only after prolonged pressure from concerned citizens and environmental groups, it seemed the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources was finally ready to take Duke Energy to task over coal ash pollution.

But when DENR and Duke put forth a proposed settlement that came with a fine of just $99,000 and the requirement that Duke assess the sources and extent of contamination, dreams of adequate enforcement that will protect communities from coal ash quickly crumbled.

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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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