A major Kentucky coal company falsified its pollution reports in the first quarter of 2014, according to multiple environmental groups that filed an intent to sue notice against the company this week.
Appalachian Voices, Kentucky Riverkeeper, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, and the Waterkeeper Alliance sent a notice of intent to sue to Frasure Creek Mining Monday, alleging that the company failed to report water pollution to Kentucky regulators in late summer and early fall of 2014, instead falsifying the pollution report it submits each quarter. According to the groups, Frasure Creek, a company that largely specializes in mountaintop removal mining in Eastern Kentucky, “duplicated results” of water monitoring reports from quarter to quarter rather than issuing a new, updated report each quarter, in some cases changing only those results that would have triggered violations of pollution limits. Nearly half of the water pollution reports turned in by Fraser Creek in the first quarter of 2014 “contained the exact same data that Frasure Creek had already submitted for previous monitoring periods,” according to the groups.
Eric Chance, a water quality specialist with Appalachian Voices, told ThinkProgress that these false reports mean the people of Kentucky don’t know how polluted some of their streams are. And they could have reason to worry: mountaintop removal mining, a process in which coal companies blast away the tops of mountains in Appalachia in order to access the coal seams buried underground, is considered the most destructive way to extract coal. The practice destroys streams and can poisons drinking water.
“We don’t know what the water quality actually is with these duplicated reports,” he said. “We do know that these mines have had pollution problems in the past, and probably still do, but the fact that they’re covering up those pollution problems with false reports is probably the most alarming thing about this.”
But the environmental groups aren’t just calling on the coal company to provide accurate water pollution reports. The notice also singles out Kentucky’s regulators — specifically the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet — for not stepping in to stop this alleged practice of falsifying reports.
“The Cabinet has utterly failed to even notice these flagrant violations of the laws that it is bound to uphold,” the notice reads. “Frasure Creek’s actions — and the Cabinet’s failures to act — undermine the regulatory framework that safeguards the people and the waters of Kentucky from dangerous pollution.”
Chance said he’s hoping for multiple outcomes from the intent to sue. First, he said some people involved with the falsification need to be fired — and not the low-level lab workers who may have been complicit in the falsifications, but the company executives. But ultimately, he said he thinks the state’s regulatory agency needs to be shaken up a bit.
“The regulators start need to doing their jobs, really,” he said. “There needs to be some changes at the Kentucky regulatory level. In previous cases, every step of the way, the Cabinet did everything they could to impede justice and protect polluters. They’ve forgotten that their job is to protect and serve the people of Kentucky and not serve the coal industry they’re supposed to regulate.”
This isn’t the first time that environmental groups have discovered falsified reports from Frasure Creek. In 2010, Appalachian Voices and other groups found that Frasure had duplicated pollution measurements more than 9,000 times in the previous two years, and that in that two-year time span, the company reported zero pollution violations. The groups filed an intent to sue, and the company was fined $310,000 for what state regulators called “transcription errors.” But a few years later, the company again began falsifying reports, according to the groups.
The state Energy and Environment Cabinet, for its part, said the notice of intent to sue contained “inaccurate and inflammatory statements” and that its regulators had been “actively monitoring compliance with Frasure Creek and other coal mining operations in Kentucky.”
But Chance said that, despite these assurances from the Cabinet, regulators’ past refusals to strictly enforce pollution rules have played a role in Frasure Creek’s continued falsifications.
“In general, we think this is a really big deal,” he said. “This is one of the biggest sets of violations and potential conspiracies to violate the Clean Water Act that we’ve ever seen.”