Friday, April 27, 2012

Ky. Supreme Court lets environmental groups join case over water pollution from coal mines

In what could become a key case in regulation of mountaintop-removal coal mining in Eastern Kentucky, the state Supreme Court has ruled that four environmental groups and three private citizens can intervene in a lawsuit brought by the state against a mining company for thousands of violations of the federal Clean Water Act. Brett Barrouquere of The Associated Press reports the high court found that Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd "did not err" with his ruling granting intervention.

Intervention will allow Appalachian Voices, Kentucky Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and three citizens to submit comments in the suit brought against Frasure Creek Mining by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. In October 2010, the groups filed an intent to sue Frasure Creek and International Coal Group, two of the largest mountaintop removal mining companies in the state, alleging more than 20,000 violations of the Clean Water Act, some involving apparently falsified reports, which theoretically could result in as much as $740 million in fines. The state reached a settlement with the companies, but the groups wanted to intervene to oppose it, claiming the penalty levied against the companies was far too low.

Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson concluded Shepherd does have authority to allow the intervention: "Clearly the regulations contemplate citizen intervention in an agency's state-court enforcement action, such as this one, and to that extent these regulations would be meaningless if such intervention were pre-empted," Barrouquere reports. (Read more)

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