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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Kentucky Activists Allege Coal Companies Violate Clean Water Act Thousands of Times

Published: August 11, 2012


By Jeff Young


Polluted runoff from a mountaintop removal mine’s valley fill in eastern Kentucky. (Photo: Matt Wasson)

Data from two mountaintop-removal mining companies reveal average of 45 potential pollution violations a day.

By Jeff Young

Activists in eastern Kentucky’s coal country used the records of two mining companies to identify thousands of alleged Clean Water Act violations in just the first three months of 2011.

The groups Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance filed notices of intent to sue Tuesday ICG and Frasure Creek Mining. The groups say the two companies exceeded pollution discharge limits more than 4,000 times from January through March.

The alleged violations include levels of total suspended solids, manganese and iron many times greater than permits allow.

High levels of manganese in drinking water can be toxic to the nervous system, causing symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease. The pollution came from mountaintop removal mines the companies operate, according to Appalachian Voices Water Programs Director Donna Lisenby. Lisenby said the data came from discharge monitoring reports the coal companies must file.

“We are hoisting them on their own petard,” Lisenby said in a teleconference call with reporters. “The sheer number is astounding. It shows a systemic and pervasive pattern of ongoing water pollution with no meaningful enforcement.”
It’s not the first time the groups have gone after ICG and Frasure Creek Mining, two of the largest mountaintop removal mining companies in Eastern Kentucky.

Last year the groups were preparing to sue the companies for some 20,000 alleged water permit violations, possibly incurring millions of dollars in fines, when the state’s energy and environment cabinet stepped in. The state arranged a settlement with the mining companies and fined them $660,000.

The activists say the state is not adequately enforcing the law and that the discharge data show the pollution continues.

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