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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 17, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - 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, a spokesman for Appalachian Voices, says the agreement revolves around false reporting found in state records in 2010 involving pollution coming from dozens of coal mines.

"We expected to see lots of violations of permit limits, but we found next to none. Eventually, we began to find entire quarterly reports that were identical to each other except for the date."

The mines in question are owned by International Coal Group, which took part in the settlement, and Frasure Creek Mining, which has not.

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

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

KFTC member Ted Withrow says the groups wanted to make sure the settlement addressed three key issues:

"A trustworthy third-party independent monitoring program, strong stipulated penalties that will punish future water quality violations, and penalty awards that must be spent in southeastern Kentucky where the violations occurred."

In addition to ruling on the settlement, the court will decide whether to impose the original agreement the state Cabinet struck with Frasure Creek. The same judge who allowed the coalition to intervene when the groups claimed the state's enforcement was inadequate must OK the deal before it can take effect.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV