The latest episode in the saga known as Big Coal’s Watergate began today when environmental and citizen groups filed a second notice of intent to sue the two largest mountaintop removal mining companies in Kentucky. Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper, and Waterkeeper Alliance notified ICG and Frasure Creek Mining of their intent to sue the companies for more than 4,000 violations of the Clean Water Act — these on top of more than 20,000 violations the groups already sued over back in October.
As an editorial in the Lexington Herald-Leader wrote about the previous lawsuit against these same companies:
The environmental groups uncovered a massive failure by the industry to file accurate water discharge monitoring reports. They filed an intent to sue which triggered the investigation by the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet. Also revealed was the cabinet’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.
This time around, none of the evidence that mines were violating pollution limits is in question. Moreover, the notice of intent to sue came at a particularly bad time for the coal industry and for Kentucky’s regulatory agencies, right when their momentum to hamstring the EPA’s authority was really starting to gather steam. Examples of recent anti-EPA efforts include:
- Passage of a bill by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee designed to eviscerate EPA’s authority to enforce the Clean Water Act;
- Recent calls from at least three Republican presidential candidates to abolish the EPA altogether;
- A bill that was introduced in the Senate last February that really would abolish the EPA.
In the midst of Big Coal’s anti-regulatory crusade, however, Kentucky coal companies have given Americans another unmistakable reminder of exactly why it is that we really, really need an EPA — and why polls show that the agency enjoys the overwhelming support of Americans [pdf] from across the political spectrum.
The new evidence that was provided by environmental and community groups of fraudulent reporting of pollution discharges by companies — allegations that were written off by Kentucky regulators as “transcription errors” — is beyond embarrassing for a state that is complaining to Congress, judges, and anyone else who will listen about how the EPA is overstepping its authority to protect waterways. The premise of the most recent anti-EPA bill is that a bunch of jack-booted thugs from the EPA are coming in and mucking things up for the state agencies, who already have their regulatory houses well in order.
In testimony before the House committee that passed the bill last week, Len Peters, the secretary of the Kentucky Environment and Energy Cabinet (the agency that enforces environmental laws in Kentucky), told members of Congress:
“Coal can be and is being mined in an environmentally responsible manner—we continue to make improvements, and the industry has been willing to do things better… We strongly believe the EPA’s objections to recent proposed draft permits for Clean Water Act 402 permits for surface mining operations in Kentucky were arbitrary.”
Furthermore, it was Peters’ agency that refused to sanction one of these same companies for dumping waste into streams without even bothering to obtain a permit [pdf] and called allegations by environmental groups that the state did a poor job of investigating their complaints “bordering on specious“.
But the new analysis of reports submitted by coal companies over the last few years leaves the coal companies and state regulators with a lot of explaining to do.Read More ...