Appalachian Coal Companies Face Major Fines for Clean Water Act Violations

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 | Posted by Brian Sewell | 2 Comments

iron precipitate in right fork fugate creek below unpermitted fill and pondsTwo recent federal enforcement actions against major Appalachian coal companies, Alpha Natural Resources and Nally & Hamilton, are a positive sign. But can fining coal companies come close to solving the fundamental problem of water pollution that stems from mountaintop removal? [ More ]

KY and NC: Different States, Same Recipe for Lax Clean Water Enforcement

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Chance | 4 Comments

Yesterday there was a hearing in Franklin Circuit Court for our ongoing challenge of a weak settlement that the state of Kentucky reached with Frasure Creek Mining. The settlement is a slap on the wrist that lets them off the hook for thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act, and it bears a striking resemblance to the settlement between North Carolina and Duke Energy that has come under scrutiny after their recent coal ash spill into the Dan River. [ More ]

Fighting for Clean Water in Virginia: Standing up to Coal Industry Bullies

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Chance | 2 Comments

944745_10100206520223687_1797773733_n Today, Appalachian Voices along with our allies in Virginia filed a lawsuit against Penn Virginia, for water polluted by selenium coming from abandoned mines on their land. This lawsuit is one in a series of suits aimed at cleaning up selenium pollution in Callahan Creek. [ More ]

EPA Helps Kentucky Roll Back Water Quality Protections

Friday, November 15th, 2013 | Posted by Erin Savage | 1 Comment

Above are blue gills that were collected below the site of TVA’s 2008 Kingston Coal Ash spill. They all have “pop-eye”, a deformity caused by selenium pollution where their eyes bulge out of their heads. These fish had selenium levels of 2.5-6.5ppm, well below Kentucky’s newly accepted standard of 8.6 ppm for fish tissue.

Just today, after several months of delays, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its decisions on the Kentucky Department of Water’s (DOW) amendments to the Kentucky Water Quality Regulations. Unfortunately, the EPA has approved substantive changes to the selenium freshwater chronic standard that will not adequately protect aquatic life and will be difficult, if not impossible to enforce at mountaintop removal coal mining sites throughout eastern Kentucky.

In theory, states review their water quality standards every three years in an effort to make sure these standards are up-to-date with current science and are protective of aquatic life. In some cases, however, the review becomes an opportunity for special interests to influence state agencies. This year, under pressure from the coal industry, the Kentucky DOW proposed to weaken selenium standards. Standards are used to set permit limits for industries that may discharge pollutants into public waterways. Though some mines in Kentucky are known to discharge selenium into streams, the Kentucky general permit for valley fills does not currently include selenium permit limits.

Selenium is a naturally occurring element that can be released into streams through mountaintop removal coal mining. Once in the water, selenium bioaccumulates in fish and other aquatic life, increasing in concentration up the food chain. Selenium is toxic to aquatic life at very low levels. For these reasons, Appalachian Voices and our allies have been working to challenge Kentucky’s proposed selenium standards.

Kentucky DOW proposed to raise the acute selenium standard from 20 ug/L in the water column to 258 ug/L in the water column. They also proposed changing the chronic standard of 5 ug/L to a more complicated system where a level of 5 ug/L in the water column would not be enforceable, but instead would trigger the need to sample fish tissue. The new chronic standard would be 8.6 ug/g in fish tissue, or 19.2 ug/g in egg/ovary tissue. The 5 ug/L water concentration would only be an enforceable limit if no fish were available for sampling.

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Local Citizens Speak Up about Nation’s Top Source of Toxic Water Pollution: Coal-Burning Waste

Thursday, September 26th, 2013 | Posted by Sarah Kellogg | 2 Comments

G.G. Allen Steam Plant's Waste Storage Facilities and Nearby Neighborhood

G.G. Allen Steam Plant’s Waste Storage Facilities and Nearby Neighborhood

Last month, more than 150,000 people across the country submitted comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, encouraging the agency to adopt strong regulations for the toxic waste water produced by coal-burning power plants.

The comments were submitted to the EPA after the agency proposed an update of the rules under the Clean Water Act last April. The proposed steam electric effluent limitation guidelines, or ELG rules, have the potential to protect more than 23,000 miles of waterways from up to 5.3 billion tons of toxic waste water a year.

The EPA’s rules for coal waste water have not been updated since 1982, and since four out of five power plants have no limits on the levels of heavy metals they can dump into rivers and lakes, the new rules could provide hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens with peace of mind.

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Another Clean Water Win! No More Sludge in the Ohio River

Thursday, September 12th, 2013 | Posted by Kara Dodson | No Comments

A Kentucky court ruling for clean water comes as the EPA finalizes revisions to rules governing power plant wastewater discharge. Tell the EPA to develop strong standards to protect clean water before September 20.

A Kentucky court ruling for clean water comes as the EPA finalizes revisions to rules governing power plant wastewater discharge. Tell the EPA to develop strong standards to protect clean water before September 20.

Here’s some good news for your Thursday — a Kentucky court ruled in favor of clean water in a landmark case that will protect the Ohio River from being further polluted by coal waste.

The ruling comes just in time for a nationwide revision to a 30-year-old U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guideline linked to the court’s decision.

Back in 2010, Louisville Gas & Electric’s Trimble County coal plant near Bedford, Ky., was permitted to store toxic waste byproducts in a wet pond that flowed into the Ohio River. That means the only barrier between a stream of heavy metals, including arsenic and selenium, and the drinking water source for millions of people was a settling pond. Essentially, the Kentucky Division of Water had given LG&E a free pass to slowly poison the river and the communities that rely on it.

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Budget Hacks in White House Bow to Industry Pressure on Clean Water Rule

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 | Posted by Kate Rooth | No Comments

A story this week describes how the Office of Management and Budget caved to industry pressure and weakened an EPA proposal to update a 30-year-old rule on power plant wastewater discharges.

A story this week describes how the Office of Management and Budget caved to industry pressure and weakened an EPA proposal to update a 30-year-old rule on power plant wastewater discharges.

We’ve written before on the Front Porch Blog about the need to dramatically strengthen federal limits for wastewater discharges from the nation’s power plants, which account for roughly two-thirds of all toxics that wind up in America’s rivers, streams and other waters. In June, the Environmental Protection Agency, finally, issued a proposal to update the 30-year-old discharge rule.

While not perfect, the proposed “effluent limit guidelines,” or ELG rule, would go a long way to reducing the discharge of toxics, including mercury, selenium, arsenic and lead, to name just a few. The EPA included several different options for electric utilities to achieve the pollution reductions.

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Concerns Grow Over the EPA’s Stance on Selenium Pollution

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 | Posted by Erin Savage | 3 Comments

Protect Appalachia's Waterways from Toxic Selenium Pollution

In February, we wrote about the new selenium water quality standards being proposed by the Kentucky Division of Water and urged concerned citizens to express their concern to the state. Now, Kentucky has gone ahead with its proposal, submitting the new standards to the EPA for review. While the EPA may deny Kentucky’s proposed standards, concerns are growing that the EPA, influenced by states beholden to their mining industries, may release its own inadequate standard. That is why we are urging people to tell EPA to stop Kentucky, and to require strong, enforceable standards in every state.

Kentucky High Selenium Coal Seems

Selenium is of particular concern in Kentucky and other Central Appalachian states because it is often released into streams through mountaintop removal coal mining and is toxic to aquatic life at very low levels. Even though many high-selenium coal seams are mined in Kentucky, companies typically claim there will be no selenium discharge when first applying for a permit, so that the pollutant is not included on the permit. Selenium has rarely been included on mining permits in Central Appalachia, effectively allowing companies to avoid monitoring or treating it, unless citizens force them to with lawsuits. A recent victory in a lawsuits over illegal selenium discharges from a Virginia surface mining operation indicates that selenium pollution is a widespread problem at mountaintop removal mines across Central Appalachia.

Kentucky has faced increased pressure from citizens and the EPA to include selenium standards on pollution discharge permits, so that water quality is adequately protected. Unfortunately for the coal companies, selenium is expensive to treat and difficult to keep out of streams impacted by surface mining in high-selenium coal seams. Adding selenium to permits would mean that many coal companies have to start paying for a much larger portion of the damage they create. It appears that the state is helping coal companies find a way to avoid responsibility for selenium discharges. By increasing the legal limit of selenium allowed in streams and including fish tissue-based standards that are difficult, if not impossible to enforce, the state will allow many companies to continue to skirt their responsibility to the land and the people of Kentucky.

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A Great Day for Virginia Streams

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Two headed trout, a result of selenium pollution. Courtesy of USFWS.

Yesterday, advocates for clean water won a major court victory in Virginia. Under a court order, A&G Coal will be the first coal company in Virginia required to get a permit for their discharges of toxic selenium. U.S. District Judge James P. Jones ruled that because the company did not tell regulators that they might discharge selenium, their permit does not allow them to.

Selenium is a common pollutant at many Appalachian coal mines and is toxic to fish at very low levels, causing deformities, reproductive failure and death.

The case was brought by the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices, represented by Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

>> Read the press release to find out more
>> Read the judge’s ruling here

Court Victory for Clean Water in Kentucky: The Battle Continues

Friday, July 19th, 2013 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Acidic mine water being discharged from one of Frasure Creek’s Kentucky coal mines

Last week, an attempt by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to toss concerned citizens out of court failed.

Judge Phillip Shepherd denied a motion to dismiss our challenge of a settlement between Frasure Creek Mining and the cabinet. Appalachian Voices and our partners KFTC, Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance, will now be allowed to proceed with our argument that the settlement should be vacated.

In October of 2010, we filed a Notice of Intent to Sue Frasure Creek for submitting false water monitoring data. Frasure Creek and the cabinet reached a settlement for those violations, but it has not been approved by the court. Before that, the data Frasure Creek submitted to the state never showed any violations. After our legal action, they switched labs and began showing hundreds of water quality violations every month.

We attempted to sue Frasure Creek for these subsequent violations, but the cabinet filed a complaint in state administrative court for the same violations. We intervened and became full parties to that case, but then a slap on the wrist settlement was entered between Frasure Creek and the cabinet completely without our consent. Our current challenge to this settlement is based on the fact that we are full parties in the case yet we had no say in the settlement’s creation.

The cabinet attempted to get our challenge thrown out because they claimed that we did not follow proper procedures when we filed it, but the judge dismissed their arguments. Now, the cabinet must respond to the substance of our challenge.

>> Click here to read the ruling
>> Click here to read more about this challenge
>> Click here for more information on our Kentucky Litigation

Coal Ash Update: Legislatin’, Litigatin’ and Fillin’

Monday, July 1st, 2013 | Posted by | No Comments

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources recently filed a lawsuit Riverbend plants to stop coal ash pollution of drinking water sources.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources sued Duke Energy to stop coal ash pollution from contaminating Mountain Island Lake, the Charlotte Metro area’s primary drinking water source. Click the photo to watch a short video.

“Passing a bad piece of coal ash legislation prolongs our pollution problem and makes the possibility of an accident much more of a reality.”

These words, from a recent letter to the editor in the Asheville Citizen-Times, reflect the growing discomfort over coal ash storage and how legislators are tackling the problem.

Coal ash is the waste byproduct from burning coal, and is stored in large unlined, earthen ponds, usually near waterways. It contains toxic chemicals such as lead, arsenic and selenium, and can leak from the ponds into groundwater. When improperly constructed and inspected, coal ash ponds can burst — the most horrific example of this occurred in 2008, when a pond at TVA’s Kingston, Tenn., coal plant ruptured and more than 1 billion gallons of the toxic substance surged into local waters and communities. Cleanup efforts are ongoing.

In the wake of the Kingston coal ash disaster many called for federal regulations on coal ash storage. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly delayed releasing the rule, which could be released as early as 2014, many at the state and federal level have tried to stop the EPA from doing just that.

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Help Update Our Retro Wastewater Standards on July 9th

Monday, July 1st, 2013 | Posted by Jessie Mehrhoff | 1 Comment

Join us on July 9 at a public hearing in Washington, D.C., to support the EPA and request that strict wastewater pollution limits replace the outdated rule.

The last power plant discharge standards were introduced more than 30 years ago. On Tuesday, July 9, join us at a public hearing in Washington, D.C., to support the EPA and request that strict wastewater pollution limits replace the outdated rule.

Each year, coal-fired power plants dump 80,000 pounds of arsenic, 65,000 pounds of lead, and 3,000 pounds of mercury into U.S. waterways. More than 23,000 miles of America’s rivers have been sullied due to the lack of pollution standards for wastewater discharged from power plants.

On Tuesday, July 9, you can help fix this.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold a hearing on the proposed Effluent Limitation Guidelines, a set of standards that would reduce the amount of power plant pollution dumped into U.S. waters by up to 5.6 billion pounds annually. Attendance at the July 9 hearing is critical because it is the only public hearing currently planned for the proposed pollution limits.

The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 and the last power plant discharge standards were introduced ten years later in 1982. To put things into perspective: Michael Jackson’s song “Thriller” was also released in 1982. As a college student, I am glad that “Thriller” is a classic; it’s a catchy tune enjoyed by those of us born even decades after its release. I am not thrilled, however, by the fact that our current power plant wastewater discharge standards debuted the same year. Pollution standards should not become “classic.”

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