SUIT MAKES SUN SHINE BRIGHTER ON KENTUCKY MINING POLLUTION

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SUIT MAKES SUN SHINE BRIGHTER ON KENTUCKY MINING POLLUTION

From: Waterkeeper Magazine Volume 11, Issue 2
By Waterkeeper Alliance Attorney Pete Harrison

Waterkeeper Alliance and Kentucky Riverkeeper joined a coalition of

citizens’ groups in filing a federal lawsuit against Frasure Creek Mining,

LLC, for submitting to the State of Kentucky more than 100 false waterpollution-

monitoring reports on its coalmines in the state. These reports

are intended to ensure that companies stay within the permitted limits

for pollutants, but Frasure Creek reports hid nearly 20,000 violations of

the federal Clean Water Act. The violations carry a maximum penalty of

more than $700 million.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet share culpability

with the company, having failed for years to take action against mounting

violations, which occurred at mountaintop-removal coal mines in Floyd,

Magoffin, Pike and Knott counties in eastern Kentucky.

“Self-reported data are the backbone of Clean Water Act

enforcement,” says Alice Howell, of the Sierra Club’s Cumberland

(Kentucky) Chapter. “When companies like Frasure Creek submit false

data it completely undermines all the protections we have in place to

make sure our water is safe.”

Frasure Creek, once Kentucky’s largest producer of coal from

mountain-top-removal mining, is a subsidiary of Essar Group, a multibillion-

dollar international corporation based in India.

“By all indications, this case looks like the biggest criminal

conspiracy to violate the federal Clean Water Act in the history of that

law,” says Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Pete Harrison. The coalition also

includes Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, and

the Sierra Club.

Frasure Creek has long been guilty of false reporting. Almost five

years ago, citizens’ groups uncovered falsified pollution reports that

led to two cases against the company, which have yet to be resolved. In

both cases, the cabinet reached slap-on-the-wrist settlements with the

company, pre-empting citizen involvement. After a Kentucky judge threw

out those settlements last December, the cabinet appealed the ruling.

That case continues. Meanwhile, in January, the cabinet initiated action

against the company. The citizens’ groups have filed to intervene in that

action to ensure that the State of Kentucky appropriately enforces the law.

“Our state officials have turned a blind eye to what is obviously a

serious problem,” says Ted Withrow, a member of Kentuckians for the

Commonwealth and retired Big Sandy River Basin coordinator for the

Kentucky Division of Water. “False reporting is widespread within the coal

industry, but state regulators have little incentive to identify problems like

these when there are false reports that make everything look great.”

Kentucky Riverkeeper Pat Banks adds that, as coal production

declines in the state, “we need to be more diligent than ever to make

sure companies can’t cut corners at the expense of local residents and

the environment. We need healthy people and a healthy environment for

eastern Kentucky to be able to flourish.

“Coal jobs may be leaving the state, but they’re leaving behind the

industry’s legacy of environmental damage for us to clean up.”

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