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KY: Clean Water Groups Take On Coal Companies



October 11, 2010

LONDON, Ky. - A coalition of environmental advocacy groups and other concerned organizations and individuals is taking the first steps toward legal action against two Kentucky coal companies for violating the federal Clean Water Act. They've filed an intent-to-sue notice, citing 20,000 alleged violations in the last two years by International Coal Group of Knott County and Hazard, and Frasure Creek Mining. The alleged violations include doctoring water pollution reports, failing to conduct tests, and exceeding permit pollution limits.

Donna Lisenby of Appalachian Voices, a North Carolina Group that started the investigation, says state officials have shirked their responsibility in checking coal companies' water pollution or discharge monitoring reports (DMRs).

"It appears to us that the regulatory agencies there are not doing an adequate job of reviewing DMRs and that more review by independent third parties is desperately needed."

Ted Withrow, a retired state water-quality official, is a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, one of the groups involved in the potential lawsuit. He says that in 2009 Frasure Creek Mining Company self-reported mineral discharges more than 40 times the legal limit, which, he says, can be toxic to people and aquatic life.

"The very lives of our people are being adversely affected by high pollutant levels that are in violation of the law. The coal industry appears to treat the people of Appalachia as expendable to profit."

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, says intentionally lying or faking pollution data is a criminal offense. He says coal companies should be fined as much as $740 million for the 20,000 alleged violations. Such fines would be paid to the U.S. Treasury.

"Their crime here was not just an environmental problem; it was compounded by the fraud. I would ask for the full penalty because I think it's the only way to maintain the integrity of the Clean Water Act."

Under the Clean Water Act, violators are given time to clean up their problems, or the state takes action before a lawsuit is filed. International Coal Group has reportedly called the allegations "scurrilous." Kentucky officials say they will investigate the issues raised by the environmental groups.

Lawsuit information is at www.appvoices.org

Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY