Another legal round in the campaign for clean water

Continuing their campaign to make sure Kentucky's water is safe for everyone, KFTC and allies have challenged plans by the Beshear administration to let Frasure Creek Mining "off the hook" for repeated violations of the Clean Water Act.

Appalachian Voices, Waterkeeper Alliance, Kentucky Riverkeeper, KFTC and several individuals (the petitioners) asked the Franklin Circuit Court Thursday to vacate an Agreed Order signed in April by Environment and Energy Cabinet Secretary Len Peters that claims to resolve all recent water quality violations by the company.

They point out that the settlement "is inadequate to address Frasure Creek’s pollution problems and prevent such harms from occurring in the future." They called the administration's action "arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, contrary to law, and not supported by substantial evidence."

“This settlement lets Frasure Creek off the hook for thousands of water quality violations,” explained Eric Chance, a water quality specialist with Appalachian Voices. “For years Frasure Creek had been submitting false monitoring reports. During that time they never reported any water quality problems. After we exposed these false reports, they began using more reputable labs and started showing hundreds of water quality violations every month.

“Over the past few years Frasure Creek’s water discharges haven’t really improved and I don’t expect there to be any improvements in the water coming off Frasure’s mines from this settlement,” Chance added.

"Clean water is not just a good idea. Clean water is critical to our health and well being,” said Pat Banks with Kentucky Riverkeeper. “We have learned that we cannot be complacent. The Clean Water Act enforces the notion that if companies are out of compliance and enforcement by the state fails, then citizens can and must step in to protect our waters. That's what we are doing here."

The petitioners also point out that they were granted full party status in the administrative enforcement case but were shut out of negotiations between the Cabinet and Frasure Creek that resulted in the final Agreed Order. A copy of the petition is here.

"We as citizens have the right to intervene and see and participate in this process. Yet the Cabinet continues to ignore the law and shield another coal company from any meaningful enforcement. This Agreed Order was done behind closed doors shutting citizens out, even though we had full rights to be part of the process."

Ted Withrow
KFTC Litigation Team member

"The Cabinet has once again systematically excluded Kentucky citizens who are fighting to protect the water they use. After bringing Frasure Creek's false reporting and pollution to the Cabinet's attention, the Cabinet has tried, at every step, to sweep this matter under the rug and quickly settle with the company and exclude citizens from the process,” said Mary Cromer, with the Appalachian Citizens Law Center and one of the attorneys representing the petitioners. “We bring suit against the Cabinet for failing to do what's necessary to ensure that Frasure Creek's pollution is cleaned up and for excluding the citizens from their rightful roles as co-enforcers of the Clean Water Act."

BACKGROUND

In June 2011, the petitioners filed a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue, documenting more than 2,800 violations of the Clean Water Act by Frasure Creek in the first three months of 2011. After conducting its own investigation, the Cabinet filed an internal administrative enforcement action alleging many of these same violations.

In November 2011, the petitioners were granted full intervention status.

However, the Cabinet conducted negotiations with Frasure Creek without notice to and participation by the intervenors, resulting in the Agreed Order signed by Peters. Kentucky law prohibits the entry of an Agreed Order without the consent of each and every full party to the Administrative Proceeding.

The violations in this case are similar to those in a 2010 lawsuit pending in Franklin Circuit Court. In that older case, false reporting made it impossible to identify pollution problems like the ones at issue in this case. In the original lawsuit, the Cabinet filed an enforcement action against Frasure Creek in Franklin Circuit Court after the same petitioners made public thousands of Clean Water Act violations. In that case, the court granted the petitioners full intervention status. So in the 2011 case, the Cabinet took a different enforcement route to avoid public intervention. However, the administrative judge also granted full intervention status.

"Approval of this Agreed Order would not appropriately penalize Frasure Creek or deter future violations, but instead it punishes the citizens of Kentucky. The Agreed Order sends a message to Frasure Creek and other coal companies that they can come into Kentucky, enjoy a near amnesty from state and federal environmental regulation, plunder the state’s natural resources, annihilate mountains and destroy rivers and streams, endanger the lives of the people living downstream, all before leaving without being held accountable for the destruction they have wrought. To enter the Agreed Order would be to endorse to this shameful scam." – from intervenors' January 2013 letter objecting to the Agree Order

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