Environment

 

Citizen environmental groups say they plan to sue a Kentucky coal company for once again falsifying pollution reports.

The Notice of Intent to Sue filed today by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Appalachian Voices, Kentucky Riverkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance alleges Frasure Creek Mining didn’t accurately report the water pollution from its Eastern Kentucky coal mines. Instead, the environmental groups say, the company copied and pasted data from one report to the next, and violated the Clean Water Act 28,000 times in the past year.

This is the same sort of problem the same environmental groups uncovered four years ago. Ted Withrow of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth said it’s hard to believe  that the company would employ the same tactics after being caught once before.

“It is kind of unbelievable on two counts,” he said. “It’s unbelievable that they would have the audacity to do it again, and that the cabinet is once again not watching or paying attention to the reports that they’re required to under the Clean Water Act to enforce the law. It boggles the mind.”

Withrow said because of the scientific nature of pollution discharge monitoring reports, it would be impossible to get the same results from one report to another, down to the decimal point.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet said in an online statement that the agency has already taken action on a number Frasure Creek’s violations.

Additionally, Frasure Creek Mining, LLC, was the subject of an involuntary bankruptcy petition filed in February 2013 by other creditors of the company.  As part of the bankruptcy process, all of Frasure Creek’s mining equipment was sold at auction and a reorganization plan entered by the bankruptcy court in November 2013.  The reorganized company was placed under the requirements of the previous orders in addition to orders with the cabinet’s Department for Natural Resources.  Under those orders, Frasure Creek performed some reclamation work and posted new reclamation bonds in the amount of $7.4 million. DNR has continued to cite violations by the company as they have occurred and those are in the administrative enforcement process for those violations.

Contrary to inaccurate and inflammatory statements directed at the Cabinet in the [Notice of Intent to Sue], the agency has been actively monitoring compliance with Frasure Creek and other coal mining operations in Kentucky. Since 2011 the Division of Enforcement has reviewed approximately 179,000 [Discharge Monitoring Repors] involving 78 coal companies and over 2,200 mining permits, assessed civil penalties in excess of $3,697,000, and has entered into 67 enforcement settlements with coal companies in Kentucky. The agency has and continues to proactively review and take appropriate enforcement actions to resolve violations identified during the inspection and review of coal mining operations.

In 2010, the same citizens groups found that Frasure Creek and ICG Mining had both submitted false reports to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. The groups attempted to sue, but the commonwealth stepped in with an administrative action. ICG ended up paying $575,000 in penalties; a settlement with Frasure Creek over those violations is still pending in Franklin Circuit Court.

Frasure Creek has 60 days to respond to the charges laid out in the Notice of Intent to Sue. If the violations aren’t corrected, the environmental groups can pursue citizen enforcement. But if the Energy and Environment Cabinet steps in with an administrative action, as it did before, it would block the citizen lawsuit.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Assignment Editor.