Posts Tagged ‘Mountaintop Removal’

Counteracting Coal’s Dirty Tricks

Friday, April 18th, 2014 - posted by tom
The coal industry is up to its old trick. But with your help, we're working to make sure they backfire.

The coal industry is up to its old trick. But with your help, we’re working to make sure they backfire.

The coal industry is up to its old tricks. But with your help, Appalachian Voices and our allies are working to make sure they backfire.

Just a month after a federal court threw out the Bush administration’s flawed 2008 stream buffer zone rule, the industry’s allies in the U.S. House passed a bill in March to reinstate this egregiously permissive rule that allows coal companies to dump mountaintop removal waste in streams with little regard for water quality impacts.

We acted quickly to undermine what symbolic success that legislation, H.R. 2824, would ultimately have. While we never expected to stop the bill from passing the unabashedly anti-environmental House, our efforts helped to narrow the margin and bridge the partisan divide that pervades Congress.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, a coalition including Appalachian Voices had Capitol Hill covered. We attended dozens of meetings to educate House members and ensure the truth about mountaintop removal was the message of the day. Sure enough, when the bill was debated on the House floor, opponents of mountaintop removal stood and spoke for the health and well-being of Appalachian communities.

We’re not going to let the coal industry take us backward by making an end-run around the court’s decision. And if this bill goes to the Senate, we’re confident that—with your help—we can defeat it. The White House even issued a veto threat, rightfully questioning why industry-backed representatives would want to “waste significant taxpayer dollars adopting a rule that has been vacated by a federal court” noting that the Office of Surface Mining is developing an updated Stream Protection Rule that it says will address the threats mining waste poses to water quality, wildlife habitat and communities downstream.

But here’s the kicker: by showing how far it’s willing to go to make mountaintop removal easy, the coal industry did its part in stoking stronger public and congressional support for clean water. Now it’s up to us to build on this support and pressure on the Obama administration to develop a Stream Protection Rule that protects Appalachian streams from mining waste.

Read Thom Kay’s blog post for a snapshot of floor speeches, both the good and bad, on H.R. 2824.

America’s biggest bank moves away from mountaintop removal

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 - posted by brian


A combination of activism and economics is reducing the role big banks play in making mountaintop removal coal mining possible.

Update: Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club, and BankTrack released their latest Coal Finance Report Card, grading U.S. banks on their performance and policies related to coal-fired power and mountaintop removal coal mining. Read the Report Card here.

Pressuring large investment banks to stop financing mountaintop removal coal mining has been a strategy of the nationwide movement to end the destructive practice for years.

Judging by the progress made by Rainforest Action Network, and other grassroots groups such as Earth Quaker Action Team and Hands Off Appalachia targeting the infamous “too big to fails,” that strategy is working.

Yesterday, RAN shared the news that JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States, updated its position on mountaintop removal in its environmental policy report, indicating a further move away from financing mountaintop removal projects.

The bank’s announcement comes almost four years after a report by RAN, the Sierra Club and BankTrack revealed that JPMorgan, along with PNC and UBS, was a top financier of companies using mountaintop removal.

RAN’s Energy & Finance program director, Amanda Starbuck, wrote that, as the nation’s largest bank, JPMorgan Chase’s aversion to financing mountaintop removal projects should be an example to other major banks “that do not want to be singled out” for continuing to support the destruction of Appalachian mountains and streams. We’re looking at you, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup. Yes, you too, PNC and UBS.

According to JPMorgan Chase’s 2014 environmental policy report, the bank has reduced its exposure to companies engaged in mountaintop removal and expects that reduction to “exceed any decline in the
overall market.”

The policy report does not overlook the economic side of this environmental crime either, mentioning that “production from mountaintop mining has declined by close to 50 percent since 2008 due to market conditions, regulations, and concerns over environmental and human health impacts.”

Still, as recently as last year, JPMorgan Chase earned a D+ on RAN’s Coal Finance Report Card, which evaluates the largest U.S. banks based on their financing of mountaintop removal projects and companies that operate coal-fired power plants.

The report card’s authors wrote that JPMorgan Chase’s “enhanced diligence process” for mountaintop removal transactions “includes considerations of a company’s regulatory compliance history, exposure to future regulation, litigation risk, and operational performance related to valley fills and water quality issues.”

Overall, the bank ranked fourth among the 12 largest U.S. banks in involvement in mountaintop removal financing, committing $616.7 million in 2012 to companies including Alpha Natural Resources and TECO Energy, according to the Coal Finance Report Card.

In order to improve its grade, the RAN team wrote, JPMorgan should disclose details and “strengthen reporting on how it has implemented its enhanced diligence process for mountaintop removal transactions.”

Strong stances on mountaintop removal in the finance sector are not unprecedented. BNP Paribas, the fourth largest bank in the world by total assets, includes a mandatory requirement in its responsible investment policy to not invest in companies that use mountaintop removal.

Appalachian Voices congratulates RAN on the success of its campaign against America’s biggest banks and the pivotal role they play in making mountaintop removal possible. Learn more and take action here.

Virginia Power Shifters intend to organize and win on climate

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 - posted by hannah

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Building up communities, empowering people to overcome oppression and standing up to polluters with grassroots strength: these were among the central themes of Virginia Power Shift, which took place at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond last weekend. Students worked tirelessly to involve campuses from all over the state, and delegations traveled from every corner of Virginia to join in the hard work (and, yes, also the play) that constitute this amazing young leaders’ summit.

An eye-opening and inspiring convergence of developing leaders and newly-born activists and loads of young reformers in between, the event showcased a movement on the rise, bringing social justice, climate and energy, pro-democracy and equality campaigns into one space to share skills and generate new approaches to problems.


Words don’t seem to capture the Power Shift ethic and attitude of heightened awareness and an open-minded way of caring for all people struggling for fairness and equity, but the picture above captures some of the substance and spirit of the weekend of learning and action.

Workshops given on the issues of the moment ranged from student debt to mountaintop removal mining, renewable energy to voter suppression, privilege and discrimination to corporate campaigning against greenwashing and unethical practices. Remarks by climate movement and environmental justice leaders like Energy Action Coalition’s Lillian Molina, Virginia New Majority’s Tram Nguyen, and the Hip Hop Caucus’ Reverend Lennox Yearwood capped off the conference on a high note.

The weekend of action and leadership is just the beginning of a redoubled effort to expand participation of students on campuses in the many organizing opportunities highlighted in Richmond, and in many other fights that this generation takes seriously.

Are you a student ready to engage in this powerful movement? Get with the active organizations on your campus, or check out the top-notch student coalition behind Power Shift 2014!

Heroes and Hyperbole: U.S. House Passes Pro-Mountaintop Removal Bill

Monday, March 31st, 2014 - posted by thom
Speaking in opposition of H.R. 2824, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) holds a bottle of water from beneath a mountaintop removal mine, and says that ignoring the threats of mountaintop removal to clean water means "risking the health of families in mining communities in Kentucky and throughout Appalachia"

Speaking in opposition of H.R. 2824, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) holds a bottle of water polluted by mining waste, saying that ignoring the threats of mountaintop removal to clean water means “risking the health of families in mining communities in Kentucky and throughout Appalachia”

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to roll back stream protections in an effort to make it easier to dump waste from mountaintop removal mines into Appalachian streams. Given the makeup of the House right now, this comes as no surprise. But there is a silver lining.

We fought hard against this bill, because the key to preventing it from moving in the Senate and eventually becoming law was to show significant pushback from our anti-mountaintop removal allies in the House.

The bill may have passed, but the 229-192 margin is much narrower than most votes to roll back regulation in the House in recent years. We lost only nine Democrats and were happy to have seven Republicans on our side. And nine members took to the floor (including one during a previous hearing) to oppose the bill, making it clear that a vote for H.R. 2824 was a vote for mountaintop removal coal mining and against the health and well-being of Appalachian communities.

Together with our allies and the pressure from people across the country, we believe we can stop the bill from moving any further. We haven’t won yet, but the significant opposition shown on Capitol Hill last week was a step in the right direction.

The floor debate lasted for well over an hour. Below is a compilation of key quotes from Republicans and Democrats from the hour-long floor debate.

Doc Hastings (R-WA): If we do not stop the administration from implementing its new coal regulation, thousands of Americans will be out of work, and home heating costs for working middle class families will rise.

Let’s pass this legislation to protect American taxpayer dollars, to protect American jobs, and to end this administration’s reckless, wasteful rewrite by putting in place a responsible process that will allow a proper new rule to be written.

Rush Holt (D-NJ): Hospitalizations, hypertension, lung cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, increased flooding. Water with dangerous concentrations of toxic metals? Yes. That is what the science says. And the destruction of forests and streams.

These are the impacts of mountaintop removal mining that Congress should be addressing today. This is what we should be holding hearings on and writing legislation about. We should be making the protection of people and the environment of the Appalachian region our top priority and making the mining companies act responsibly, not just cheaply.

Doug Lamborn (R-CO): The legislation before us today is very simple. It would cripple the Obama administration’s war on coal by ending their unnecessary rewrite and it would require the Office of Surface Mining to implement the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule.

John Yarmuth (D-KY):
It is bad enough that children who live in mining communities color their streams orange when they draw their environment, but it is tragic that the water they drink is denying them the healthy future they deserve.

We are risking the health of families in mining communities in Kentucky and throughout Appalachia by continuing to ignore the toxic orange water that pollutes their drinking supply.

Nick Rahall (D-WV):
It is clear, at least to me, that the effort by the current administration to revise the 2008 rule is aimed at halting a mining practice that is specifically condoned by SMCRA.

Fundamentally, there is no question; this debate is about jobs. It is about good-paying jobs in West Virginia and other areas of the Appalachian region.

Mike Kelly (R-PA):
Listen, what we are doing today just makes sense. We have already run the traps on it. We have already run the tests. We have done all the metrics. Coal is good for America. Coal has always been good for America. Coal has cleaned itself up incredibly and will continue to do so. These are the most responsible people.

Jim Moran (D-VA):
The goal of this bill is to require all States to incorporate a now vacated 2008 rule that was issued in the very last days of the Bush administration and was then struck down by a U.S. Federal court. It was an eleventh-hour regulation that was designed to repeal Reagan-era protections for streams and waterways from the impacts of mountaintop mining by providing a buffer zone for waste disposal. Its vague and permissive language sets an alarmingly low bar when it comes to protecting communities and wildlife habitats near mountaintop mining operations.

Steve Scalise (R-LA):
The President continues to pursue this global warming agenda. It is snowing outside of the Capitol right now as we speak in support of this bill, and they are still talking about global warming and imposing more regulations that are killing–killing–American jobs.

Earl Blumenauer (D-OR):
People can see for themselves the devastation from mountaintop removal and the fact that we have been negligent as a country for years providing adequate protections.

Supreme Court Rejects Spruce Mine Mountaintop Removal Case

Monday, March 24th, 2014 - posted by brian
The U.S. Supreme Court won't consider a case alleging the EPA overstepped its authority by retroactively vetoing mountaintop removal permits it deemed unacceptably harmful to water quality.

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t consider a case alleging the EPA overstepped its authority by retroactively vetoing mountaintop removal permits it deemed unacceptably harmful to water quality.

The U.S. Supreme Court says it won’t consider the case of Mingo Logan Coal v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s authority to veto mountaintop removal permits that would cause unacceptable harm to water quality and wildlife.

In this case, the permits in question are for Arch Coal’s Spruce Mine No. 1., which would span more than 2,000 acres and is the largest mountaintop removal mine ever proposed in West Virginia.

The court’s decisions comes almost a year after an appeals court sided with the EPA in the case, which dates back to the agency vetoed permits approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2011.

Appalachian Voices applauds this decision and urges the EPA and the Obama administration to hold strong in their ongoing efforts to protect clean water and Appalachia from mountaintop removal coal mining. As it becomes more difficult for large-scale mountaintop removal projects like the Spruce Mine to move forward, the coal industry will likely become more aggressive and desperate in their attacks.

“The EPA acted in accordance with the law when they vetoed this permit,” says Kate Rooth, Appalachian Voices’ campaign director. “Preserving its ability to do so in the future is critical for protecting vital watersheds and downstream communities threatened by mountaintop removal throughout Appalachia.”

Today’s news is also another indication that the effectiveness of the coal industry’s “war on coal” narrative is waning. Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward Jr. shared this statement on his Coal Tattoo post earlier from Jim Hecker of Public Justice — one of the lawyers who worked on the case that initially blocked the Spruce Mine:

“The coal industry has falsely painted the Spruce mine veto as an example of EPA overreach and a ‘war on coal,’ when in fact EPA’s authority to veto this permit is obvious from the face of the statute and EPA’s decision is based on clear scientific evidence of serious environmental harm from mining.”

The yearslong case will now continue in lower courts that have yet to rule on parts of the lawsuit.

Pro-Mountaintop Removal Bill Headed to House Floor

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 - posted by thom
Another bad bill: Pro-mountaintop removal legislation that would weaken protections for Appalachian streams will be considered on the House floor next week.

Another bad bill: Pro-mountaintop removal legislation that would weaken protections for Appalachian streams will be considered on the House floor next week.

It’s hard to get a good bill all the way through the legislative process to receive a vote on the House floor. Apparently it’s much easier to get a bad bill that far.

We’ve been following H.R. 2824, a bad bill sponsored by Ohio Rep. Bill Johnson, since it was in committee. The bill would force all coal mining states to adopt and enforce the flawed 2008 Stream Buffer Zone rule created under the Bush administration. That’s the same rule that was just vacated by a federal court for violating the Endangered Species Act. Regardless of the obvious flaws in both the Bush rule and the new bill, H.R. 2824 is expected to head to the House floor for a full vote sometime next week.

Contact your representative to help defeat this pro-mountaintop removal bill.

The 2008 Stream Buffer Zone rule is favored by the coal industry and opposed by environmental groups including Appalachian Voices. We are pushing the Obama administration to rewrite the rule to provide the strongest possible protections for Appalachian streams and nearby communities.

In an odd twist of party politics, most Democrats are fighting for the enforcement of a 1983 Reagan-era stream protection rule, which is much stronger rule than the Bush rule, while most Republicans are fighting to get rid of the older, but more effective rule. And Republicans are pushing a bill that would force coal mining states to adopt a federal rule, while Democrats are fighting to protect each state’s right to continue enforcing their own stream protections.

This fight is about mountaintop removal, coal mining pollution and how those threats are regulated. Rep. Johnson and his allies want minimal regulations (though even the bill’s co-sponsors don’t seem to understand that coal pollution is real), and opponents of the bill want to protect the environment and Appalachian communities from mountaintop removal.

There is good news. We’re fighting the bill in the House, trying to stop the bill’s momentum. It’ll likely pass the House, but the margin does matter. If we can dredge up enough opposition, the Senate will be disinclined to touch it. We also have a veto threat from the White House, and those hold a whole lot of weight.

Help us get your House representative to oppose the bill and give us the best chance to defeat it.

There are already members of congress across the country who are on our side. Watch Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida speak in opposition to H.R. 2824 during a rules hearing on the House floor recently.

Take action to help defeat this anti-environmental bill. Learn more about our work to end mountaintop removal.

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.

What’s Happening in Tennessee on Mountaintop Removal Today?

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 - posted by brian

UPDATE: Both bills described in this post, the Scenic Vistas Protection Act and the Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee, remain in committee after yesterday’s hearing and will not be considered again this session. Senator Lowe Finney, who sponsored the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, told committee members that Tennessee needs to “find a way to protect the natural resources and, frankly, the beauty that we have in those mountain ranges across Middle and East Tennessee,” while also supporting jobs and the economy.

Thankfully, the committee also halted the primacy bill, which would allow the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to take over regulation of coal mining in the state from the federal Office of Surface Mining. Appalachian Voices Tennessee Campaign Coordinator Ann League told The Tennessean that the committee took a “sound course of action today on this ill-conceived bill.” We’ll share more news about these bills on Twitter. Follow us @Appvoices.

For the seventh year, Tennessee lawmakers can stand up for mountain communities by voting "yes" on the Scenic Vistas Protection Act. But if a coal industry-backed proposal passes, Tennessee's mountains could be threatened further.

For the seventh year, Tennessee lawmakers can stand up for mountain communities by voting “yes” on the Scenic Vistas Protection Act. But if a coal industry-backed proposal passes, Tennessee’s mountains could be threatened further.

Two important legislative efforts face hurdles in the form of a legislative hearing and committee vote today. Both efforts pertain to coal mining and mountaintop removal. One promotes the health of Tennessee’s mountains and mountain communities, the other would harm them.

First, a rightfully controversial proposal to have the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation take over regulation of coal mining in the state from the federal Office of Surface Mining is being considered in the Senate Committee on Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources today. The committee hearing starts at 3 P.M. EST and can be live streamed here.

Titled the “Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee,” the initiative represents a drain on Tennessee’s financial resources and its natural resources through a weakening of environmental regulations.

The bill, supported by the Tennessee Mining Association and state GOP legislators, calls for a 20-cents-per-ton-tax on coal mined in Tennessee. But that would have to be much higher to come close to covering the costs of the program, which could reach into the millions. As Appalachian Voices’ Ann League wrote in an op-ed in The Tennessean last week, “Tennessee’s annual production of coal is 1.2 million tons, which would yield just $240,000 [under the 20-cents-per-ton-tax] — and coal production is declining.”

Tennessee contributes a negligible amount of coal to national production, and research has found that coal already does more harm than good to the state economy. As written, the proposal makes no economic sense unless you put coal industry profits above the public interest of Tennesseans. If passed, it would reverse a state decision with 30 years of standing.

During the same Senate committee hearing, the legislators will also consider the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, a bill that would protect the state’s highlands by banning mountaintop removal coal mining on the highest ridges of the Cumberland Mountains.

Mountaintop removal threatens one of the primary drivers of tourism in Tennessee: its mountains. The tourism industry generates an economic impact of more than $15 billion and sustains nearly 177,800 jobs. Mountaintop removal’s economic importance to the state pales in comparison — according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2012 Tennessee had fewer than 200 surface coal mining jobs.

Despite having broad bipartisan support, the Tennessee legislature has repeatedly ducked the issue of mountaintop removal. Last year, the sixth session during which the bill was considered, legislators in the Senate killed the bill without a vote or allowing testimony from the public. The House likewise deferred the bill with little consideration or time for debate.

The move prompted the Knoxville News-Sentinel to write an editorial opposing mountaintop removal and criticizing legislators for once again shirking their responsibility to the public and the obligation of their posts. “No discussion means no progress in solving an issue that is important to this area.”

For the seventh year in a row, the Tennessee lawmakers have a chance to vote “yes” on protecting mountains and streams, and promoting a sustainable economy for future generations. We hope they do.

Study Confirms Air Pollution from Mountaintop Removal

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 - posted by meredith
A recent study connects air pollution from mountaintop removal mines with health problems in nearby communities.

A recent study connects air pollution from mountaintop removal mines with health problems in nearby communities.

For generations, Appalachian mining communities have raised questions about local health problems, wondering whether or not they may be linked to air pollution from surrounding coal mines.

A recent study conducted by a group of West Virginia University researchers has confirmed that suspicion, reporting that potentially dangerous air pollution levels are more likely in areas surrounding mountaintop removal coal mines than in mine-free communities. This suggests a significant correlation between coal mining areas and rates of cardiovascular disease, birth defects and cancer.

Published last week in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, the paper is the latest of more than 20 peer-reviewed studies dating back to 1991 examining the health impacts of mountaintop removal in Appalachia.

Explosives used during the mountaintop removal mining process are one of the suggested causes of increased particulate matter, a type of air pollution made up of very tiny particles that can easily be inhaled and become lodged in the lungs. With large blasts of rock and vegetation, mountaintop removal sends these particles into the air, where they are carried far beyond the site of the explosion and into surrounding communities. Previous studies have proven that contact with excess particulate matter is associated with breathing and heart complications, hospital admissions and even death.

This map captures the correlation between deaths from respiratory disease in Appalachia and mountaintop removal coal mining.

This map captures the correlation between deaths from respiratory disease in Appalachia and mountaintop removal coal mining.

Over the course of a year the researchers studied three West Virginia communities, two of which were near mountaintop removal mines, while the third was a non-mining site. By evaluating hospital records and the presence of airborne contaminants in the air, the WVU researchers calculated that there were significantly higher concentrations of dangerous particulate matter in the coal mining communities than in the mine-free zone.

Given the clouds of dust rising up around mountaintop removal explosions, it is no surprise that residents held suspicions about the toll this type of coal mining may take on their health. This study adds to the growing evidence that mountaintop removal coal mining is a harmful practice not only to mountains, but to people.

Click here to learn more about the human cost of mountaintop removal.

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.