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Coal and Coalition Reach Agreement in Landmark Water Pollution Case

PHOTO: Polluted stream downhill from a mountaintop removal mine in Magoffin County, Kentucky (Photo by Matt Wasson / Appalachian Voices)
PHOTO: Polluted stream downhill from a mountaintop removal mine in Magoffin County, Kentucky (Photo by Matt Wasson / Appalachian Voices)
October 9, 2012

FRANKFORT, Ky. - In what's being called a landmark case for water quality and public health in Kentucky, a coalition of public interest groups has reached a settlement with a major coal company and the state over thousands of water pollution violations. Among the groups involved are Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper, and the Appalachian Citizens' Law Center.

Eric Chance with Appalachian Voices says the agreement revolves around false reporting found in state records in 2010 involving the pollution coming from dozens of coal mines.

"First, we expected to see lots of violations of permit limits, but we found next to none. Between reports, many values were very, very similar and eventually we began to find entire quarterly reports that were identical to each other except for the date."

Mary Cromer, staff attorney for the Appalachian Citizens' Law Center, says as bad as the record keeping and lax state oversight seemed at first, it got worse.

"Not only had the companies been submitting false reports, they also had failed to submit any reports at all for many of their facilities. Obviously the system was broken."

KFTC member Ted Withrow says there were three key areas the groups wanted to make sure the settlement addressed.

"Number one, a trustworthy third-party independent monitoring program; strongly stipulated penalties that would punish future water quality violations; and a penalty award that must be spent in southeastern Kentucky where the violations occurred, and on programs that will improve the water quality there."

The mines in question are owned by International Coal Group, which took part in the settlement, and Frasure Creek Mining, which has not. The same judge who allowed the coalition to intervene when the groups claimed the state's enforcement was inadequate, must okay the deal before it can take effect.

In addition to ruling on the settlement, the court will decide whether to impose the original agreement that the state cabinet struck with Frasure Creek.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - KY