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KY Proposes Settlement With Coal Company Over Water Pollution

The Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection is proposing a settlement with a coal company over thousands of alleged violations of the Clean Water Act in eastern Kentucky. The deal is among the highest the state has ever levied for pollution penalties, but environmental groups say it still falls short.

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The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet filed a consent agreement earlier this week with Bardstown-based coal company Nally and Hamilton to address numerous violations of the Clean Water Act. They’re proposing the violations be settled for $507,000.

This comes six months after environmental groups announced their intent to sue the company.

Coal companies are required to report how much pollution they release into waterways. Non-profit Appalachian Voices found that many of Nally and Hamilton’s monthly reports looked familiar…as if the company were copying numbers from one month and pasting them in another.

“It would be like you filing the same tax return to the IRS year after year,” Donna Lisenby of Appalachian Voices said.

This point—that Nally and Hamilton didn’t accurately report their pollution—is one of the few on which the state and Appalachian Voices agree. After a performance audit, the Department for Environmental Protection issued a violation in January telling the company that it had missed several reports, and reminding them of their obligation to report discharge.

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Lawsuit Initiated Against Two Eastern Kentucky Coal Companies

Several environmental groups are threatening to sue two eastern Kentucky coal companies for thousands of water violations. They say the state won’t take action. This comes as the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet is lobbying to have even more control over the state’s waterways.

The notice of intent to sue was sent from Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and several other organizations to International Coal Group–recently acquired by Arch Coal–and Frasure Creek Mining. They say the coal companies self-reported thousands of violations at eastern Kentucky mines.

Donna Lisenby with Appalachian Voices says her group is taking action because the state Energy and Environment Cabinet hasn’t.

“And the cabinet continues to shield them, it fails to investigate and make these findings, it fails to prosecute, so we, the citizens’ groups, are left to enforce the Clean Water Act in Kentucky,” she said.

The group intervened in a similar case last year, when the state of Kentucky took action against the same companies for failing to accurately report the amount of pollution their operations were releasing into waterways. Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled that environmental groups could intervene in the case, suggesting that the state wouldn’t “diligently prosecute” the coal companies. That case is scheduled for mediation next month.

These suits come at a time when congress is moving to give states more control over the Clean Water Act. Kentucky’s Energy and Environment cabinet head Len Peters even testified before a committee in favor of the measure in May.

“Governor Beshear and I recognize and respect that EPA has a responsibility and obligation to revise and update regulations and program requirements as necessary to protect human health and environment,” he said in his testimony. “However, EPA should not create new regulatory requirements that have not undergone the appropriate Congressional or rulemaking processes.”

The environmental groups point to the number of violations found for ICG and Frasure Creek Mining’s eastern Kentucky mines as proof the Commonwealth isn’t properly administering the program. Kentucky cited just over a tenth of those violations, and asked for about $600,000 in fines.

In this most recent notice of intent to sue, the companies have 60 days to respond to the charges laid out in the letter. If the violations aren’t corrected, the environmental groups can pursue citizen enforcement.

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Environmental Groups Plan to Sue Coal Company

A coalition of environmental groups plans to sue a Kentucky coal operator for allegedly falsifying state water quality reports.

The groups say Bardstown-based Nally and Hamilton Enterprises committed 12,000 violations of federal law by filling out water permitting reports with inaccurate or repetitive information. The groups say they discovered the violations while reviewing state documents earlier this year.

The groups are: Kentuckians fro the Commonwealth; Appalachian Voices; and the Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance. They filed a similar action last year against two other surface mining operators.

Additional information from the Associated Press