Eric Chance, Appalachian Voices, 828-262-1500, email@example.com
Ted Withrow, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, 606-782-0998, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pat Banks, Kentucky Riverkeeper, 859-200-7442, email@example.com
Pete Harrison, Waterkeeper Alliance, 828-582-0422, firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam Beitman, Sierra Club, 202-675-2385, email@example.com
Pikeville, Ky. – A coalition of citizens groups today filed a federal lawsuit against Frasure Creek Mining, LLC, for submitting to the state more than 100 false water pollution monitoring reports from its Kentucky coal mines. The false reports amount to nearly 20,000 violations of the federal Clean Water Act and carry a total maximum penalty of more than $700 million.
>> The lawsuit is available here.(pdf)
The violations occurred at Frasure Creek’s mountaintop removal coal mines in Floyd, Magoffin, Pike and Knott counties in Eastern Kentucky. Frasure Creek, formerly the state’s top producer of coal from mountain top removal mining, is a subsidiary of Essar Group, a multi-billion dollar international corporation based in India. In November, the groups sent Frasure Creek a “notice of intent” to sue after at least 60 day, as required by the Clean Water Act.
“By all indications, this case looks like the biggest criminal conspiracy to violate the federal Clean Water Act in the history of that law,” said Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Pete Harrison.
The pollution discharge monitoring reports are supposed to be used by state regulators to ensure companies stay within the permitted limits for pollutants. The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, however, failed for years to take action on Frasure Creek’s mounting violations.
The mining company has a history of similar false reporting. Almost five years ago, citizens’ groups uncovered falsified pollution reports, which led to two cases against Frasure Creek that have yet to be resolved. In both cases, the cabinet reached slap-on-the-wrist settlements with the company, preempting citizen involvement. In December, a Kentucky judge threw out those settlements. The cabinet is now appealing that ruling.
In January, 59 days after the groups revealed the company’s latest violations, the cabinet took administrative action against the company. The groups have filed to intervene in that action to try to ensure the state appropriately enforces the law.
“Frasure Creek is using false reports to mask serious pollution problems,” said Eric Chance, Water Quality Specialist for Appalachian Voices. “And the cabinet is failing in its duty to enforce the law and protect the people of Eastern Kentucky from dangerous pollution, which is why citizens’ groups have had to step up and do the job through lawsuits like this one.”
“Our state officials have turned a blind eye to what is obviously serious problem,” said 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.”
“Coal jobs may be leaving the state, but the industry’s legacy of environmental damage is here to stay,” said Pat Banks, Kentucky Riverkeeper. “With declining coal production, 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.”
“Self-reported data is the backbone of Clean Water Act enforcement,” said 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.”
The citizens groups — Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and Waterkeeper Alliance – are represented by Mary Cromer of Appalachian Citizens Law Center, attorney Lauren Waterworth, and the Pace Law School Environmental Litigation Clinic.