Higher Fines for Big Coal in Kentucky Clean Water Act Case

By Erin Savage

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet recently reached a settlement of $507,000, with Nally & Hamilton Enterprises, Inc., a mountaintop removal coal mining company in eastern Kentucky.
The fine tops previous record-setting fines issued in Appalachian Voices’ on-going case against Frasure Creek and ICG coal companies, $310,000 and $350,000, respectively. Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council are suing Nally & Hamilton for 12,000 violations of the Clean Water Act.

On Sept. 14, a conference was held for the Office of Administrative Hearing case between the cabinet and Nally & Hamilton to determine whether Appalachian Voices and its partners may continue with legal proceedings as intervenors in the case. The decision halted legal proceedings, including Appalachian Voices’ ability to request additional records from Nally & Hamilton and the cabinet.

The cabinet failed to respond to any previous discovery requests, before the recent conference. Without disclosure of relevant information, it cannot be determined whether the settlement is based on a thorough investigation or if it will remedy past and deter future violations.

Though the fines represent a major step toward holding coal companies accountable for their pollution, they are still insufficient. Under Kentucky law, Nally & Hamilton could be fined $300 million.

The settlement provides a low monetary penalty, ignores the potential of fraud, provides little deterrent for future violations and absolves Nally & Hamilton of liability for additional violations already committed.

The cabinet also failed to identify most of the violations uncovered by Appalachian Voices and did not include Appalachian Voices and its partners in the settlement negotiations. For these reasons, Appalachian Voices and its partners continue to pursue Clean Water Act justice as intervenors in this case.

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