On Nov. 17, Appalachian Voices and our partners in Kentucky served Frasure Creek Mining with a sixty-day notice of our intent to sue for perpetrating almost 28,000 violations of federal law at its coal mines in eastern Kentucky. This is possibly the biggest conspiracy to violate the federal Clean Water Act in the history of the law.
Since 2013, the company has been turning in false water pollution reports for several of its coal mines in eastern Kentucky that feed into the Big Sandy, Licking and Kentucky rivers.
We initially took legal action four years ago against Frasure Creek and two other companies for duplicating data on water pollution reports. Unbelievably, Frasure Creek has begun doing the same thing again, only this time the problem appears even more extensive.
False reporting like this undermines the regulations that are supposed to protect American citizens and their waters from industrial pollution. Without valid reporting, there is no way to know if and when a coal mine is contaminating water, to what extent or for how long. Regulations then become useless and our safeguards are thrown out the window.
A week after we and our partners served Frasure Creek with the latest notice to sue, a Kentucky judge overturned two slap-on-the-wrist settlements that Kentucky regulators had reached with the mining company a few years ago.
The judge issued two rulings, one on each of the two cases against Frasure Creek that were before him. The first case was based on the false water monitoring reports that we uncovered in 2010. The cabinet entered a settlement with Frasure Creek with miniscule fines compared to what is allowed under the Clean Water Act. We then challenged that weak settlement in court. In last week’s ruling, the judge threw out the settlement because it is not “fair, reasonable or in the public interest.”
The second case was based on pollution problems that became evident once Frasure Creek’s false reporting subsided. Even though we were full parties to the case, state regulators and Frasure Creek reached another sweetheart settlement without our involvement. The judge found this had violated our due process rights and threw out the settlement, sending the case back to administrative court.
Both of these decisions could be appealed, and since previous settlements were simply thrown out, the actual violations are still unresolved. Nonetheless, this is a great step forward, and a great vindication of citizens’ right to protect their environment
In the meantime, we will continue to work hard at bringing justice to these polluters and holding regulators accountable for not doing their jobs. Appalachian Voices is joined in the latest notice to sue by Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance. The groups are represented by Mary Cromer of Appalachian Citizens Law Center, attorney Lauren Waterworth and the Pace Law School Environmental Litigation Clinic.
Read the full story and latest updates on our Front Porch Blog.