The Associated Press reported this morning that Nally & Hamilton, one of the largest coal companies in Kentucky, will pay $660,000 in fines for illegally dumping mining debris into Appalachian streams.
According to AP, prosecutors allege Nally & Hamilton Enterprises violated the federal Clean Water Act by dumping mining waste in streams 1,000 feet beyond the permit’s boundary at its Fugitt Creek site in Harlan County, and by dumping waste in Knott County streams surrounding its Doty Creek site before a permit was even issued.
The fine is the result of a proposed consent order in a federal district court. The order must still be signed by a judge. Declining to comment, an attorney for Nally & Hamilton simply said “the consent decree speaks for itself.”
The news comes just a few days after a settlement was reached between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Alpha Natural Resources — the largest mountaintop removal mining operator in the U.S. — stipulating that the company must pay a $27.5 million fine for violations of the Clean Water Act at mines and coal preparation plants in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. It is the largest ever civil penalty under the water pollution permitting section of law.
In addition to the record-setting fine, Alpha said it will spend approximately $200 million to install and operate wastewater treatment systems and reduce pollution discharges at its coal mines in those five states.
These types of violations are nothing new, nor are they isolated incidents. Indeed, the enforcement action against Alpha alleges more than 6,000 discharge permit violations between 2006 and last year.
The eventual settlements we’re seeing for violations stretching back years only adds to the evidence of poor enforcement at the state level, especially in those states with close ties to the coal industry.
After exposing thousands of Clean Water Act violations and fraudulent reporting by coal companies in Kentucky, Appalachian Voices and our partners sued and overcame resistance from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet in order to hold negligent mine operators accountable. Those lawsuits resulted in record-setting fines against the three largest mountaintop removal companies in Kentucky: International Coal Group, Frasure Creek Mining and Nally & Hamilton.
The media coverage of those cases in Appalachia and beyond also helped to pull back the curtain on the epidemic of lax enforcement that continues to damage mining communities throughout Central Appalachia.
While the recent pickup in federal enforcement is an extremely positive sign, as long as mountaintop removal permits are approved water quality will be at risk. Appalachian Voices’ water quality specialist, Eric Chance told the Bristol, Va., station WCYB that while coal companies can treat for some of these [pollutants], “they cannot treat for all of them, not all the time.”
Similarly, the executive director of Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Joe Lovett, told The New York Times that such deals do not solve the fundamental problem of pollution inherent in practices like mountaintop removal.
“What E.P.A. should do is stop issuing permits that it knows coal companies can’t comply with.”
Click here to learn more about Appalachian Voices’ Appalachian Water Watch program and our work to ensuring compliance with laws that protect clean water.