Posts Tagged ‘Kentucky’

Court sides with EPA on science-based mountaintop removal permitting

Friday, July 11th, 2014 - posted by brian
A federal appeals court reaffirmed EPA's authority to coordinate with other agencies to apply science throughout the mountaintop removal permitting process.

A federal appeals court sided with the EPA today on mountaintop removal permitting.

In a major victory for Appalachia and clean water advocates, a federal appeals court has reaffirmed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to coordinate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when reviewing Clean Water Act permits for mountaintop removal mines. The court also ruled that the EPA’s guidance on conductivity is not a final rule and therefore is not subject to legal challenge. Read the court’s decision here.

More on today’s decision and what it means for Appalachia.

The three-judge panel rejected a 2012 ruling that the EPA overstepped its authority by pursuing an enhanced permitting process for certain mountaintop removal proposals. Today’s ruling sends the lawsuit back to U.S. District Court.

A statement from Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons:

“The court’s ruling today is as clear as the science indicting mountaintop removal coal mining, and it affirms what advocates working to end the destruction of Appalachian mountains and streams have been saying for years.

“Overwhelming evidence of the toll mountaintop removal takes on water quality, wildlife and human health continues to emerge. Still, mountaintop removal permits are being approved with disregard for the basic science behind EPA’s conductivity guidance. The ruling should be a signal to states and the EPA to begin truly following that science. And it’s common sense that the agency coordinate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make sure the science is applied throughout the permitting process.”

This month, yet another study pointing to the destructive impact mountaintop removal was released, adding to the body of science state and federal agencies should apply to the permitting process.

Learn more about Appalachian Voices’ work to end mountaintop removal.

One fish, two fish … Dead fish

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 - posted by matt

USGS Study: Mountaintop Removal Decimates Fish Populations in Appalachia

onefish_twofish

A study from researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) published this month provides strong new evidence that mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia is devastating downstream fish populations.

That’s hardly news for long-time followers of the controversy surrounding mountaintop removal, a coal mining practice that involves blowing off the tops of mountains to access thin seams of coal and dumping the waste into valleys below. In 2010, a group of 13 prestigious biologists published a paper in Science, the nation’s premier scientific journal, that found:

“Our analyses of current peer-reviewed studies and of new water-quality data from WV streams revealed serious environmental impacts that mitigation practices cannot successfully address… Clearly, current attempts to regulate [mountaintop removal mining] practices are inadequate.”

The authors of the study published last week found a 50 percent decline in the number of fish species and a two-thirds decline in the total number of fish in streams below mountaintop removal mines in West Virginia’s Guyandotte River drainage. They made this important contribution to the science by using rigorous methodology to isolate several types of water pollution most likely to have caused these staggering declines.

But a more important contribution of the study may be that it draws the focus of water pollution impacts away from mayflies and other aquatic insects and onto a far more popular and charismatic organism that not only is important to rural people’s way of life, but supports a multi-billion dollar sportfishing industry in Appalachia.

Tellingly, industry spokespeople contacted by local reporters did not dispute the science as they typically have in the past. Those that didn’t dodge reporters entirely were quick to change the subject to the purported benefits of mountaintop removal to create more flat land for industrial and commercial development (in a region where less than 10 percent of the more than 1 million acres of mountains that have already been flattened has been used for economic development).

This muted response is in stark contrast to the coal industry’s response to previous science linking mountaintop removal to the loss of aquatic insects downstream from mine sites. The “EPA puts mayflies ahead of jobs” or “pests over people” became the rallying cries of coal industry supporters when the EPA first began bringing science back into the permitting process in 2009.

One suspects that the coal industry knows it isn’t likely to win a “jobs vs. fish” debate with America’s 33 million anglers.

Widespread damage to fish populations could also be important from the pocketbook perspective that political leaders in Kentucky and West Virginia take seriously. According to data [PDF] from the American Sportfishing Association, recreational fishing creates a lot more jobs than mountaintop removal does in the states where it occurs:

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In fact, sportfishing accounts for more than 12,000 jobs in Kentucky, which is more than the entire coal mining workforce in the state, including all underground and surface miners, coal preparation plant workers and industry office workers combined. Moreover, unlike coal, sportfishing is a growing industry in Appalachia — the number of jobs it created in West Virginia more than tripled between 2001 and 2011.

Of course, even if “jobs vs. fish” were a popular argument, it would be just as false a narrative as “pests over people.” Declines in populations of both fish and aquatic insects are important indicators of declining health of an ecosystem on which all organisms depend, including people. The “ecological indicator” theory is consistent with the dozens of scientific studies published in the last few years that show communities near mountaintop removal mines suffer poor health outcomes ranging from high rates of cancer, respiratory illness, heart disease and birth defects to low life expectancies that are comparable to those in developing nations like Iran, Syria, El Salvador and Vietnam.

Thus, the USGS study is an important contribution to the debate about mountaintop removal for anyone concerned about recreational fishing, human health or the economy of Appalachia. Hopefully that’s everybody.

It’s also a very timely contribution because it turns out that the EPA and other federal agencies are right now grappling with important rules to protect streams that will determine whether the pollution that leads to the kinds of declines in fish populations seen by the USGS researchers will be allowed to continue.

The study found that waters downstream from mountaintop removal mines contained elevated levels of two forms of pollution that the researchers believe could account for the declines in fish populations: conductivity and selenium. Conductivity is a measure of metals and salts in water, and elevated levels are toxic to aquatic life. Selenium has caused grotesque deformities in larval fish ranging from s-curved spines and double-headed larvae to fish with both eyes on the same side of their heads.

A two-headed trout deformed by selenium pollution. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A two-headed trout deformed by selenium pollution. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This study should serve as a wake-up call to federal regulators that have been steadily backsliding from the Obama administration’s initial commitment to put science first in agency decision-making and to rein in the widespread damage from mountaintop removal mining. That backsliding has been particularly evident at the EPA’s Region 4 headquarters in Atlanta, which oversees Clean Water Act permitting for a number of southeastern states including Kentucky.

Enforcement officials at Region 4 have not incorporated the science and recommendations developed by the EPA for the guidance on conductivity since it was announced by previous EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in 2010. At the time, Jackson predicted the new guidelines would allow “few, if any, valley fills” to be permitted. Since then, valley fills — debris piles composed of the soil and rock that formerly made up the mountaintops of Central Appalachia — have continued to be approved by Region 4, including a massive new mountaintop removal permit with six valley fills that was approved last year.

Region 4 officials also recently approved a weakening of Kentucky’s standards for chronic selenium levels in streams, allowing the state to permit levels high enough to cause reproductive failure in some fish. Worse, at the federal level, the EPA recently released a draft revision to its nationwide selenium rule that is likely to be all but impossible to enforce. That’s a particular problem in states like Kentucky that have proven time and again to be incapable of enforcing rules on the politically powerful coal industry without citizen groups intervening. Here’s what the Lexington Herald-Leader had to say about the state’s “failure to oversee a credible water monitoring program by the coal industry”:

“In some cases, state regulators allowed the companies to go for as long as three years without filing required quarterly water-monitoring reports. In other instances, the companies repeatedly filed the same highly detailed data, without even changing the dates. So complete was the lack of state oversight it’s impossible to say whether the mines were violating their water pollution permits or not.”

Fortunately, the administration has an opportunity to take meaningful action to protect Appalachian streams this winter, when the Office of Surface Mining is scheduled to release a draft Stream Protection Rule to replace the outdated Stream Buffer Zone rule promulgated more than 30 years ago.

The message for the Obama administration from all this is that they are doing nobody any favors by taking half-measures to protecting water quality in Appalachia. When important recreational fish populations, a growing sector of the Appalachian economy and the health of Appalachian people clearly depend on strong water quality protections, the president’s spirit of compromise should not extend to compromising on science.

Here’s what you can do: tell President Obama to instruct his agencies to draft a strong Stream Protection Rule that will prohibit mining near streams and protect the health of people, fish and the economy of Appalachia. Take action here.

Another coal-related chemical spill in Central Appalachia

Monday, June 9th, 2014 - posted by Erin

Hundreds of fish were killed by a chemical released into Kentucky’s Clover Fork River by Cumberland Coal Company. Photos by Alex DeSha, Sierra Club

On Friday, May 30, another coal-related chemical spill polluted a public waterway in Central Appalachia, killing hundreds of fish and alarming local residents.

The chemical spill happened at a Cumberland Coal Company prep plant in Harlan County, Ky. This time, the spill was not of coal slurry or a coal-washing chemical, but of a flocculant — a type of compound usually used to control other substances in sediment ponds or clean up spilled material in creeks.

Reminiscent of the slurry spill from the Patriot prep plant in February, this spill began when a pipe carrying slurry between the prep plant and an impoundment failed. This time, however, the slurry was contained by the facility’s sediment ponds. Due to concerns about the slurry entering the river, a flocculent called Praestol A6291 was used to help settle the spilled material and prevent it from leaving the pond.

Unfortunately, too much of the chemical was used, causing it to spill into Kelly’s Branch, a tributary of the Clover Fork River. This particular flocculant is toxic to aquatic life and it killed hundreds of fish and other wildlife in the Clover Fork in the days following the spill.

Dead fish in the Clover Fork River. Photo: Alex DeSha, Sierra Club

The Harlan County Emergency Management was notified first, but the state Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement was not notified until the next day. When DMRE arrived, there was no evidence that any coal slurry spilled into the creek and water samples taken at that time complied with applicable mining laws. Unfortunately, it does not seem that water samples were taken on the day the spill occurred.

Dead fish in the Clover Fork River. Photo: Alex DeSha, Sierra Club

A Kentucky Fish and Wildlife employee told a local reporter that the chemical spilled was not harmful to humans. However, the material data safety sheet lists two components of this particular Praestol that are known carcinogens in laboratory animals: diethanolamine and coco diethanolamide. Thankfully, this spill was not near a drinking water intake. Still, local residents expressed a great level of concern about both their own safety and the loss of local wildlife.

Cumberland Coal Company has already been cited for a violation of general hydrologic compliance. Although fines cannot erase the damage done to a community and an ecosystem, hopefully further investigation will result in sufficient fines to compel Cumberland and other companies to prevent future spills. They have been, and remain, far too commonplace.

More Than a Market

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Megan Northcote

Families with young children particularly enjoy special event days at the Chattanooga Market, which offer sample tastings of seasonal produce, such as strawberries. Photo courtesy of Chattanooga Farmers Market.

Families with young children particularly enjoy special event days at the Chattanooga Market, which offer sample tastings of seasonal produce, such as strawberries. Photo courtesy of Chattanooga Farmers Market

Shopping for fresh, locally grown foods at farmers markets is always a refreshing way to find healthy foods while supporting the community. But in recent years, some farmers markets have transformed from grocery store alternatives to tourist destinations, featuring cooking and artisan demonstrations, hands-on healthy living activities for children, and food and farm festivals for all ages. While similarly innovative markets are popping up across the Appalachian region, these eight family-friendly markets offer a small taste of the kinds of educational entertainment that’s enticing both visitors and locals to spend a fun-filled day at the market.

Morgantown Farmers Market – W.Va.

Housed in a new pavilion, this innovative market is celebrating the opening of a grant-funded culinary station that will host healthy cooking classes and demonstrations. Youngsters can enjoy a new 10-week kids’ club called “POP” (Power of Produce), which provides each child with $2 in weekly market tokens and culminates in a healthy eating activity. Different fitness activities, including a yoga flash mob, belly dancing, and hula hooping sessions keep the grown-ups in shape too. Local musicians and nonprofit booths create a lively, atmosphere. Morgantown Market Place, 415 Spruce St. Open: May 3 – early Nov., Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. – noon. Visit: morgantownfarmers.org or call (304) 993-2410

Photo courtesy of Lexington Farmers Market

Photo courtesy of Lexington Farmers Market

Lexington Farmers Market – Ky.

Open since 1975, Lexington’s Saturday market in the heart of downtown features more than 60 vendors and draws more than 5,000 visitors during peak season. Each week, the Homegrown Authors series features talks and book signings by local writers. Monthly favorites include chef demonstrations led by local culinary students and an area master gardener information booth. Each week, different organizations host children’s activities, including arts and crafts and pony rides, along with live local music. Cheapside Park. Open: Saturdays, Spring-Fall, 7 a.m.-2p.m., Winter 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Visit: lexingtonfarmersmarket.com or call (859) 608-2655

Downtown Hickory Farmers Market – N.C.

This year, a new Thursday evening summer market, Tastin’, Tunes & Tomatoes, along with the city’s widely popular Saturday market, offers chef demonstrations as well as clogging, music and healthy food scavenger hunts for children. Wind down after the Saturday market with yoga at Union Square or grab a bite at a downtown restaurant. On June 12, Thursday’s market will host Schmoozapalooza, featuring 50 additional vendors as well as beer, wine and food sampling. Union Square, downtown Hickory. Open: April 16-Nov. 1, Saturdays, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m., Wednesdays, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m; and June 5-Aug. 28, Thursdays, 5-8 p.m. Visit: hickoryfarmersmarket.com or call (828) 306-6508

Chattanooga Farmers Market – Tenn.

Now in its 13th season, Chattanooga’s bustling market has exploded into one of the biggest in the region with more than 800 vendors drawing as many as 1,300 people each Sunday. Each market is themed and includes two free music concerts, 20 food trucks and numerous chef demonstrations. During June and July, foodie festivals abound, honoring the blueberry, tomato and peach as well as the Chattanooga Street Food Festival on June 22. Beat the heat at the July 13 Ice Cream Social where $5 buys five scoops from local creameries with proceeds benefiting a community childcare center. 1829 Carter St., Open: April 27- Nov. 23. Sundays, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Visit: chattanoogamarket.com or call 423-648-2496

Independence Farmers Market – Va.

Almost every Friday in the summer, this southwestern Virginia market hosts family-friendly special event days. At Dairy Day on June 13, youngsters can learn how to milk a cow. In July, build a vegetable vehicle to enter in the zucchini car races, or challenge the family to a pie-eating contest at Berry Fest on July 18. Enjoy monthly fiber and beekeeping demonstrations as well as chef presentations during the first market of the month and free kids activities at every market. McKnight Park, Hwy. 21 and 58 intersection. Open: May-Oct., Friday, 9 a.m.-2p.m. Visit: independencefarmersmarket.org or call (276) 655-4045

The Wild Ramp – W.Va.
This 125-vendor indoor farmers market in Huntington, W.Va., will more than double in size when it moves into the Old Central City Market building this summer. Staffed by volunteers, the year-round consignment market affords farmers more time for the harvest. Vendors can lead monthly classes about canning, cooking, herbal recipes, cheese making and more. Nonprofits lead various children’s activities, such as making seed bombs. In June, enjoy a grand opening celebration during Old Central City Days, featuring food, music and antiques. 555 14th St., Huntington. Open: year-round, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Visit: wildramp.org or call (304) 523-7267

Charlottesville City Market – Va.

With more than 100 vendors, this downtown market is a bustling hub of seasonal cooking and artisan demonstrations accented by music. Chef Mark Gresge of l’etoile restaurant leads culinary workshops throughout the summer and food preservation classes later in the season. Ten community partners offer numerous children’s activities. The annual Labor Day weekend Farm Tour, sponsored by the nonprofit Market Central, is an excellent opportunity to explore more than 20 vendors’ farms by car. Corner of Water St. and South St. Open: Saturdays, April-Oct., 7 a.m. – noon, Nov.-Dec., 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. Visit: charlottesville.org or call (434) 970-3371

Asheville City Market – N.C.

Situated in the heart of the city’s thriving local food scene, Asheville’s eclectic Charlotte St. market attracts hundreds of foodies craving monthly cooking demonstrations. Every Saturday, the Growing Minds @ Market booth hosts a nonprofit to engage children in exercise and food-related arts and crafts. A strawberry summer festival features samples of creative berry recipes, while the Market Meal Challenge in late June awards prizes to the healthiest shopper. Live local music as well as healthy living booths round out the weekly experience. 161 S. Charlotte St. Open: April 5 – Dec. 20, Saturdays, 8 a.m.- 1 p.m. Visit: asapconnections.org or call (828) 348-0340

N.C. General Assembly to Consider Coal Ash

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Brian Sewell

In the first North Carolina legislative session since a Duke Energy coal ash pond spilled 39,000 tons of toxic ash into the Dan River, two lawmakers introduced a bill based on Gov. Pat McCrory’s coal ash cleanup proposal. The governor’s proposal mirrors previous recommendations made by the utility itself, and State Senator Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) has said McCrory’s plan does not go far enough. Apodaca plans to introduce a separate bill, and other lawmakers have also discussed legislation.

Disagreement regarding coal ash management also surfaced amongst shareholders at Duke Energy’s annual meeting. More than 200 protesters gathered outside to denounce the utility’s plan to charge customers for the cost of cleaning up all but two of its coal ash ponds. The estimated costs range from $5 billion to $10 billion, which could raise average household bills by more than $20 per month.

Kentucky Pipeline Proposal Suspended

The controversial Bluegrass Pipeline project lost its luster in April after the project’s backers suspended investment due to a lack of customers to buy the natural gas liquids the pipeline promised to carry. The Williams Company previously said it would put the project on hold for a year while it looked for customers.

Obama Unveils Efforts to Expand Solar Efficiency

President Obama directed the U.S. Department of Energy to improve efficiency in affordable housing, set stronger efficiency standards for commercial appliances and strengthen building codes. The Energy Department will also expand the Solar Instructor Training Network through community colleges with a goal of training 50,000 workers by 2020.

Communities Pursue Revitalization Plans

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Carvan Craft

Convenient access to local food can be a rare commodity in rural communities. Thanks to the Appalachian Livable Communities grant program, founded in 2012, five Appalachian communities will receive a shared total of $375,000 to help make local food projects a reality.

The grant will fund a new agricultural education facility for local farmers in Berea, Ky. In North Wilkesboro, N.C., the farmers market will be moved to a new downtown location so local produce will be at the focal point of the town. The grant will fund local food networks that focus on education, sustainability, and healthy eating in Huntington, W. Va. The town of Albany, Mississippi will build a riverfront farmers market.

In Forest City, N.C., there are plans to build a Regional Agriculture Innovations Center where farmers can exchange new farming methods. Danielle Withrow, Forest City town planner, says this facility will be “the most comprehensive resource for agriculture in the foothills region.”

There are also plans to relocate the Rutherford County Farmers Market to downtown Forest City. Having a farmers market downtown provides greater access to locally grown food, explains Withrow. She says the city is promoting the farmers market to “give people a local alternative for buying local products.”

Withrow says other environmentally conscious industries will come to Forest City because the community is becoming more sustainability-minded. “In today’s world, people are looking for the places that are doing the right thing,” she adds.

The Appalachian Livable Communities grants are funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
For more information, visit arc.gov

Poll Finds Increase in Support for Environment

By Kelsey Boyajian

A recent Gallup-Healthways poll reports that more Americans favor prioritizing environmental protection over economic growth. When the poll began in the 1980s, most Americans gave priority to the environment, but this trend reversed following the 2009 recession, with more Americans endorsing economic growth even if it compromised the environment. In this year’s survey, 50 percent of Americans prefer environmental protection and 41 percent prefer economic growth. Support for environmental protection has increased among both major political parties, and is endorsed by two-thirds of Democrats and one-third of Republicans.

Central Appalachian-focused James River Coal Company enters bankruptcy

Friday, April 11th, 2014 - posted by brian
James River Coal, which entered bankruptcy this week, has operations in Central Appalchia's most economically vulnerable coal-producing counties.

James River Coal, which entered bankruptcy this week, has operations in Central Appalchia’s most economically vulnerable coal-producing counties. Click to enlarge.

This week, James River Coal Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in federal court. Like Patriot Coal, which reemerged from bankruptcy in December, the Richmond, Va.-based company’s operations are concentrated in Central Appalachia and are located in some of the counties most economically vulnerable to coal’s downturn.

According to a 2013 report by Downstream Strategies, eastern Kentucky’s Knott, Letcher, Pike, Bell, and Harlan counties are particularly vulnerable to shifting coal demand and changes in electricity markets, and therefore, require the most immediate attention from policymakers seeking to alleviate the economic impacts of the region’s declining coal industry.

James River has historically operated in all of those counties. But in September 2013, poor demand forced the company to lay off 525 employees and idle production at its McCoy-Elkhorn complex in Pike and Floyd counties and the Bledsoe complex in Leslie and Harlan counties.

Two months later, the struggling coal operator idled four more mines and furloughed 200 workers.

James River has not posted an annual net profit since 2010 and reported net loss of approximately $16.4 million in 2013. Investors expected the bankruptcy was imminent after the company recently received a notice from Nasdaq that it was not complying with the stock market’s rules after its stock closed below $1 per share for 30 business days.

In its bankruptcy filing, the company said it has assets valued at about $1.06 billion and liabilities of about $818.7 million, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“The coal markets in the U.S. have changed dramatically during the past several years,” said James River Chairman and CEO Peter T. Socha. “Some of these changes are cyclical due to continued weakness in the real economy. Other of the changes are more permanent like changes in government environmental regulations, improved methods to produce natural gas, and switching between coal basins by domestic power utilities.”

A federal judge approved James River’s request to continue operations during its restructuring process, including paying wages and providing health care and other benefits to its 1,200 employees.

The company also appears committed to carrying out its contracts with electric utilities such as Indianapolis Power & Light, and Kentucky Utilities Co., which it supplies with coal from more productive mines in the Illinois Basin.

Either way, according to SNL Energy, James River’s chances for survival post-bankruptcy could be hindered by expiring contracts with electric utilities and the shrinking demand for Central Appalachian coal.

Volunteering in Kentucky

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - posted by meredith
Photo courtesy Seedleaf

Photo courtesy Seedleaf

Seedleaf

In the heart of Lexington, Ky., Seedleaf maintains a total of 14 community gardens. Seedleaf helps to cultivate these spaces, participates in city-wide composting, and offers sustainable cooking and preserving classes to children and adults. Service opportunities are offered weekly, and involve mulching, tree and shrub planting and garden maintenance. All ages. Get involved! Visit seedleaf.orgK. Boyajian

Christian Appalachian Project

Participants in this faith-based volunteer program comprise the largest organization serving marginalized groups in eastern Kentucky, with more than 50 active volunteer corps members. CAP’s various programs include serving at food pantries, providing disaster relief in areas affected by hurricanes, floods and tornadoes, working with the elderly, and offering domestic violence survivor support. CAP serves six communities throughout Appalachian Kentucky and provides room and board for volunteers in each area. Time commitments are chosen by volunteers and range from a week to a year. 18 and older. Get involved! Call 606-256-0973 or visit christianapp.orgK. Boyajian

Appalachian Coal Companies Face Major Fines for Clean Water Act Violations

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 - posted by brian
Two recent federal enforcement actions against major Appalachian coal companies, Alpha Natural Resources and Nally & Hamilton, are a positive sign. But they do not solve the fundamental problem of water pollution that stems from mountaintop removal. Above, pollution water at Nally & Hamilton's Fugitt Creek mine in Harlan County, Ky.

Recent federal enforcement actions against Appalachian coal companies are a positive sign, but even record fines do not solve the fundamental problem of water pollution that stems from mountaintop removal. Above, polluted water at Nally & Hamilton’s Fugitt Creek site in Harlan County, Ky.

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.

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

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 - posted by eric

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 Frasure Creek 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 the company’s coal ash spill into the Dan River.

It seems that there is a pretty standard recipe for how these Clean Water Act cases usually go:

Step 1: Citizens concerned about water quality uncover major problems.
Step 2: They form a coalition of other concerned groups and lawyers and file a 60-day notice of intent to sue (as required by law).
Step 3: Wait around for 57 to 59 days.
Step 4: On the last day of the 60 day waiting period the state agency, that has a very cozy relationship with the industry it is supposed to regulate, will come in and file a sweetheart deal with the polluter and blocks the citizens from being able to file suit.
Step 5: Citizens are then left to either try to intervene or challenge the weak settlement, but they are left with many legal hurtles and polluted water.

In North Carolina, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources blocked several citizen suits aimed at forcing Duke Energy to clean up their coal ash ponds, which have been leaching pollution into the state’s rivers and groundwater. Instead, DENR and Duke formed a settlement that came with a fine of just $99,000, and the requirement they assess pollution from their ash ponds, but nothing more. However, increased scrutiny as a result of the Dan River coal ash spill has put this settlement on hold. We can only hope that a better settlement will come out of this now.

Coal Ash in the Dan River, NC

In Kentucky, Appalachian Voices and our partners (KFTC, Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance represented by Mary Cromer from Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and Lauren Waterworth) have challenged the way in which this most recent settlement with Frasure Creek was reached.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet filed a case in their own administrative court to block our suit against Frasure Creek. We were made full parties to that case but Frasure Creek and the Cabinet entered a weak settlement without our agreement anyway. Basically, we are arguing that excluding us violates due process rights and the settlement is invalid because you can’t have a valid settlement without the agreement of all the parties.

One of the main excuses the cabinet gave for cutting such a nice deal for Frasure Creek was their supposed financial problems, but they completely ignored the fact that Frasure Creek is owned by Essar Group, a giant, multi-billion dollar company, owned by a family of billionaires. Frasure Creek entered bankruptcy, but it was recently bailed out with $150 million from Essar.

This is the second of two outstanding cases we have in Franklin Circuit Court against Frasure Creek. The first began in 2011 and challenges a settlement that was based on false water monitoring data that we uncovered. After that case began, Frasure Creek started using a reputable lab and submitting more accurate water monitoring reports. Those new reports showed lots of water pollution violations, and those are the basis for the case that was at issue yesterday.

At the hearing yesterday, the judge asked a lot of good questions, and we are hopeful that he will do what is right for the water and people of Kentucky.

In all these cases it seems like the key to getting state agencies to do their job is attention from the press and scrutiny from the public. When it comes to corruption, it’s often said sunlight is the best disinfectant.