The state Energy and Environment Cabinet is in court this morning, along with lawyers representing two coal companies and environmental groups. The parties disagree about the amount of money the coal companies should pay for water pollution.

The Energy and Environment Cabinet took the coal companies to court after environmental groups uncovered evidence that coal companies were falsely reporting the pollution they release in waterways. But the environmental groups—which include Appalachian Voices and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth—thought Kentucky’s penalties were too low, and were granted permission to intervene.

Now, Judge Phillip Shepherd has ordered the parties back to court for a pretrial conference. They’ve been in mediation for the past few months, and if they haven’t reached an agreement, the decision is up to the judge.

Shepherd wants the state to demonstrate it has the necessary staff and budget to make companies comply with the Clean Water Act. A year and a half ago, Secretary Len Peters admitted the department didn’t have the resources to fully enforce all of the laws, as regulations increase.

The Energy and Environment Cabinet declined to comment, but sent this statement:

We will file the document sought by the court and it will speak for itself on the cabinet’s resources.  As to what will occur at the hearing – we’re not certain what will transpire.  We’ve been actively participating in the mediation and negotiation sessions and will address any questions the court has in that regard.  Because those sessions have been confidential to this point, we are not at liberty to talk about what has or has not been discussed or accomplished.