Appalachian Voices: Kentucky’s Investigation Into Coal Company Water Violations Should Dig Deeper

Cross-posted from our friends at Appalachian Voices:

Kentucky’s Investigation Into Coal Company Water Violations Should Dig Deeper

December 7, 2010 – posted by Matt Wasson

Toxic Runoff from a Valley Fill in Eastern KentuckyLast Friday the State of Kentucky announced that they had negotiated a $660,000 settlement with three coal companies over 2,765 water quality related violations at 103 coal mining operations in Kentucky. Based on a recent analysis by Appalachian Water Watch team, however, the state’s investigations may not have dug deeply enough.

The long list of violations for which the state did cite coal companies included:

  • Failure to maintain required records;
  • Improper operation and maintenance;
  • Improper sample collection;
  • Failure to comply with the terms of the permit;
  • Failure to utilize approved test procedures,
  • Degrading the waters of the Commonwealth.

As the office of Governor Beshear announced on Friday, the state initiated its action in response to a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue (NOI) against three coal companies – ICG Knott County, ICG Hazard, and Frasure Creek Mining – submitted by Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance on October 7th. The NOIs detailed numerous examples of the three companies exceeding pollution discharge limits in their permits, consistently failing to conduct the required monitoring of their discharges and, in many cases, submitting false monitoring data to the state agencies.

We were generally pleased that the state’s investigations confirmed our allegations that mining companies in Kentucky have been irresponsibly monitoring and failing to accurately report their harmful discharges into rivers of the state. But what the state did not hold the companies liable for, indeed attributed to clerical errors, were allegations in the NOI of “falsifying the required monitoring data.” Specifically, the we demonstrated that on many occasions, companies submitted duplicate monitoring reports in which only the dates on the forms were changed. As the Appalachia Water Watch team reported in October:

“The claims brought today may just be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to irresponsible mining reporting practices and a failure in the state’s monitoring program. A recent trip to Kentucky’s Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement regional offices by Appalachian Voices’ Waterkeeper found stack after stack of discharge monitoring reports (DMRs) from more than 60 coal mines and processing facilities covered in dust on the desks of mine inspectors’ secretaries. They did not appear to have been evaluated for compliance by the regulators for more than three years. A sampling of the reports showed hundreds of repeated violations by coal mine operators in the state.”

Below is one example of the type of duplicated report that was attributed to clerical errors by the state.

Example of Duplicate Water Discharge Monitoring Reports Submitted to the State of Kentucky

Whether or not these duplicates could reasonably be attributed to clerical errors, a recent analysis by Appalachian Voices’ Water Watch team of these exact same DMRs presents a picture that, well, let’s just say leaves companies and state enforcement officials with a lot more explaining to do.

For the rest of this post, and the findings of AV’s Water Watch team see the original posting here.

Kristin Tracz

About Kristin Tracz

Kristin Tracz served MACED’s Research and Policy team from 2009-2012 working on clean energy policy, energy efficiency programs and the Appalachian Transition Initiative. She joined MACED after finishing her Master of Environmental Management degree at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She now lives and works in Washington, DC.