By Eric Chance, Water Quality Specialist
The lawsuits between Appalachian Voices and partners and Frasure Creek Mining read like the most complicated court crime novel, with fascinating — but slow-moving — plot twists galore. In mid-July, the latest development occurred when a circuit court judge blocked an attempt by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to toss the groups out of court proceedings, effectively keeping Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeepers and Waterkeeper Alliance in the mix.
To provide some background, in October of 2010, the four environmental groups filed a legal action against Frasure Creek for submitting false water monitoring reports, which included duplicated data. Almost immediately following the lawsuit, the coal mining company’s water quality monitoring reports (also known as DMRs) which previously did not indicate any water quality violations, began showing hundreds of water quality violations every month when the company switched labs.
The environmental alliance then attempted to sue Frasure Creek for the subsequent violations, but the Kentucky cabinet filed a complaint in state administrative court for the same violations, effectively blocking a new lawsuit. Appalachian Voices and partners won the right to intervene, making them full parties to the case. But then, without the environmental alliance’s knowledge or consent, Frasure Creek and the cabinet entered into a slap-on-the-wrist settlement. Because Appalachian Voices and partners were completely excluded from the settlement they were parties to, they challenged this settlement in Franklin Circuit Court.
Which brings us back to the present. Earlier this year, the state cabinet requested that the court dismiss the group’s challenge of the settlement, a request Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd recently denied, ruling in favor of the environmental groups. In short, the ruling means the alliance of groups will now be allowed to proceed with their argument that the settlement between the state and Frasure Creek should be rejected.
Stay up-to-date on legal proceedings through our Appalachian Water Watch program at appvoices.org/waterwatch.