Enviro groups pressure EPA on West Virginia, Kentucky coal mine water runoff

National and local groups representing Appalachian citizens announced Jan. 7 that they will push the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in federal court to weigh in on the alleged systematic failure of Kentucky and West Virginia, two top coal-producing states, to regulate harmful water pollution from mountaintop removal coal mines.

These separate legal actions come five years after groups first filed formal petitions with the EPA regarding West Virginia and nearly five years after the first petition regarding Kentucky. Those petitions asked the agency to revoke the authority of Kentucky and West Virginia to implement the Clean Water Act in their states, so that EPA could take over in their place. The West Virginia and Kentucky clean water programs have failed to prevent the widespread contamination of state waters by coal mines, the groups claimed.

The latest legal actions from citizen groups seek to require EPA to respond to such petitions, which it has yet to do since the first petition was filed in June 2009. The agency has also not responded to a notification of the groups’ intention to hold it accountable, which was submitted sixty days ago.

The serious and continuing danger to citizens in Appalachia was highlighted even further by a third action filed Jan. 7. In that action, citizen groups announced their intention to hold EPA accountable for the fact that it has signed off on West Virginia’s policy of failing to protect streams and aquatic life harmed by mining pollution—even while it regulates all other forms of stream pollution.

“Communities in Appalachia have been living with mountaintop removal pollution for too long. EPA needs to step up and seize the opportunity to protect Appalachian residents from rampant water pollution,” said Bill Price, a native West Virginian and national organizer for the Sierra Club who lives in Charleston, in a Jan. 7 statement. “We’ve shown the federal government that Kentucky and West Virginia are refusing to hold mining companies accountable for dangerous pollution—and EPA must take action. The Agency should immediately revoke the authority of those states to implement the Clean Water Act, or, even better, if EPA thinks change is possible it can start working with the states tomorrow to make sure they finally get serious on their own.”

“As early as five years ago, our petitions demonstrated the failure of state regulators to protect our communities from dangerous mining pollution—and the evidence and further destruction has only piled up since. Uncontrolled pollution from mountaintop removal mining is harming communities by killing off Appalachia’s steams, our wildlife, and our heritage.” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

“There is no excuse for EPA not taking action long before now to safeguard our communities,” said Mary Love from Kentuckians For The Commonwealth. “Since we filed our original petition, the Beshear administration has admitted publicly several times that Kentucky does not have the capacity to enforce the Clean Water Act. In fact, the governor has proposed and the legislature has repeatedly cut the budget for the enforcement of environmental laws, making it impossible for the state to enforce the law.”

The groups participating in the Jan. 7 petition regarding West Virginia include the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and Sierra Club. The West Virginia Rivers Coalition joined those groups as a party to the second West Virginia suit. The groups participating in Kentucky include Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC) and the Sierra Club. In all three cases, the groups are represented by attorneys with Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.