FRANKFORT – A coalition of public interest groups announced on Friday a settlement with International Coal Group to resolve a case involving thousands of alleged water pollution violations and what the groups say were “years of false reporting” by ICG coupled with lackluster enforcement by state agencies.
It was in 2010 that the four groups – Kentucky RIVERKEEPER, Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the Waterkeeper Alliance – filed an intent to sue against ICG Hazard and Frasure Creek Mining, the state’s top two surface mining companies at the time, alleging over 20,000 violations of the Clean Water Act committed by the two companies.
The coalition, which cited their own review of state records, alleged that the companies had exceeded permit pollution limits, failed to submit discharge monitoring reports or falsified required monitoring data over a two-year period.
The state eventually levied penalties in the case, but the citizens groups objected and filed a motion to intervene in the case, noting that the penalties did not include measures to ensure that false reporting did not occur in the future. The action became the first in which a Kentucky court allowed citizens groups to intervene in a case involving alleged Clean Water Act violations, and the settlement proposed on Friday was agreed to with “a goal of restoring water quality and protecting public health from the impacts of coal mining in eastern Kentucky,” according to a release issued from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth late Friday afternoon.
If approved, the settlement, which was filed in Franklin Circuit Court, will include a stipulation that a third-party audit ICG’s future water pollution monitoring and reporting in order to ensure that state enforcement agencies receive accurate data. In return, ICG, which has since been purchased by Arch Coal and does not currently have any large-scale operations in Perry County, will pay a civil penalty of $575,000 that will go to fund “general water quality improvements and water monitoring programs in eastern Kentucky.” The civil penalty is a fraction of the maximum penalty that could have been assessed.
The citizens’ group is asking that the judge set a hearing in the case, possibly as early as next week, and noted that the state energy cabinet has also signed off on the agreement.
This settlement will not affect any ongoing litigation against Frasure Creek Mining, according to the coalition, as a settlement with the company has not yet been reached. Frasure Creek also recently shut down operations in Perry County, citing financial difficulties following the loss of a utility contract.