Kentucky Groups Sue for Clean Water Act Enforcement

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


A coalition of environmental and citizen groups is filing suit against three mining companies in Kentucky for violations of the Clean Water Act, after an investigation into state records found the companies willfully, and regularly, ignoring pollution limits at or near mining sites.

After digging through records at the state’s Division of Surface Mine Reclamation and Enforcement, the groups say they found more than 20,000 violations for just these three firms—ICG Knott County, ICG Hazard, and Frasure Creek Mining, a subsidiary of Trinity Coal. The companies regularly noted that they had exceeded pollution limits in their self-reported quarterly filings, but they also often failed to submit reports or falsified monitoring data. In one case the groups cite, the data on manganese levels at one test site was 40 times the legal limit. Overexposure to the element has toxic effects and can impair motor skills and cognitive function.

The groups say they are filing suit because the state office has not enforced the law. Donna Lisenby, who works for the environmental group Appalachian Voices, described literally blowing the dust off stacks of reports from the companies that did not appear to have been actually reviewed by anyone in the state office. Or at least, they were not reviewed thoroughly; she also described reports that appeared to have the same data copied and pasted from previous months, and reports that were dated before the testing was actually conducted. “Unless coal companies have invented a time machine, it’s just not possible to submit test results for August and September that were taken in July,” she said.

The records were obtained using a Freedom of Information Act request. Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians For the Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper, and Waterkeeper Alliance jointly filed the notice of intent to sue on Thursday, though they must wait 60 days before moving forward with the actual suit. The goal, the groups said, is to push the companies to comply with the law, and for state officials to actually enforce that law. The groups estimate that the companies would have been subject to $740 million in fines had the law been enforced.

“Our state officials have closed their eyes to an obviously serious problem,” said Ted Withrow, a member of Kentuckians For the Commonwealth. “These are not small exceedances—some are over 40 times the daily maximum. This should have been a red flag.”

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate