Central Appalachian-focused James River Coal Company enters bankruptcy

Friday, April 11th, 2014 | Posted by Brian Sewell | No Comments

CAPPvulnerableThis week, James River Coal Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in federal court. Like Patriot Coal, which reemerged from bankruptcy in December, the Richmond, Va.-based company’s operations are concentrated in Central Appalachia and are located in some of the counties most economically vulnerable to coal’s downturn. [ More ]

Appalachian Coal Companies Face Major Fines for Clean Water Act Violations

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 | Posted by Brian Sewell | 2 Comments

iron precipitate in right fork fugate creek below unpermitted fill and pondsTwo recent federal enforcement actions against major Appalachian coal companies, Alpha Natural Resources and Nally & Hamilton, are a positive sign. But can fining coal companies come close to solving the fundamental problem of water pollution that stems from mountaintop removal? [ More ]

KY and NC: Different States, Same Recipe for Lax Clean Water Enforcement

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Chance | 4 Comments

Yesterday there was a hearing in Franklin Circuit Court for our ongoing challenge of a weak settlement that the state of Kentucky reached with Frasure Creek Mining. The settlement is a slap on the wrist that lets them off the hook for thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act, and it bears a striking resemblance to the settlement between North Carolina and Duke Energy that has come under scrutiny after their recent coal ash spill into the Dan River. [ More ]

The War on Poverty at 50

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 | Posted by Molly Moore | No Comments

On this day 50 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson sat on a front porch of a weary-looking eastern Kentucky home and declared war on poverty. At the time, one in three Appalachians were considered poor. The poverty rate in the region is now closer to the national average — 16.1 percent in Appalachia compared to 14.3 percent nationally — but, as you might suspect, those statistics tell only part of the story. Economic disparities between Appalachian counties and sub-regions remain high, and, as it was in 1964, eastern Kentucky remains a focal point. [ More ]

For Patriot Coal, Ending Mountaintop Removal is a “Win-Win”

Thursday, December 26th, 2013 | Posted by Brian Sewell | No Comments

join_movt_mtr_sq A little more than a year ago, Patriot Coal announced it would phase out its use of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia as part of a settlement with environmental groups over selenium pollution. Taken at face value, statements made at that time by Patriot’s CEO Bennett Hatfield held promise that the movement against mountaintop removal, focused on exposing the poor economics as well as the irreversible environmental impacts of the destructive practice, had reached a pivotal turning point. [ More ]

Changing Tides of Collaboration in Central Appalachia

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013 | Posted by Erin Savage | No Comments

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For more than 15 years, Appalachian Voices has worked to protect the air, land and water of Central Appalachia. We do this work because the protection of the place we live is integral to the health, happiness and prosperity of our communities. We do this work for the benefit of all people in Central Appalachia. Despite this, we often feel bogged down in contentious rhetoric that pits “treehuggers” against “friends of coal.” We often must spend all our time dealing with problems -- water pollution, dust problems and violations of existing laws -- when we’d much rather focus on collaboration and finding solutions.

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Appalachian Voices and Partners Challenge Kentucky’s Weakening of Water Pollution Standards for Selenium

Friday, December 13th, 2013 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

This two headed trout was deformed by selenium pollution. Today, we have taken action to keep EPA and Kentucky from allowing pollution like this to get worse.

Earlier today Appalachian Voices and a number of partner organizations sued the EPA over their approval of Kentucky’s new, weaker standard for selenium pollution.

Selenium is extremely toxic to fish, and causes deformities and reproductive failure at extremely low levels. The pollutant is commonly discharged from coal mines and coal ash ponds, but currently Kentucky does not regulate its discharge from these facilities.

These new standards were proposed at the behest of coal industry groups, likely motivated by citizen groups’ success at requiring companies in other states to clean up their selenium pollution. We have also seen the state governments of Virginia and West Virginia take steps towards making similar rollbacks to their own standards, making the EPA’s approval of Kentucky’s weakened standards even more alarming.

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EPA Helps Kentucky Roll Back Water Quality Protections

Friday, November 15th, 2013 | Posted by Erin Savage | 1 Comment

Above are blue gills that were collected below the site of TVA’s 2008 Kingston Coal Ash spill. They all have “pop-eye”, a deformity caused by selenium pollution where their eyes bulge out of their heads. These fish had selenium levels of 2.5-6.5ppm, well below Kentucky’s newly accepted standard of 8.6 ppm for fish tissue.

Just today, after several months of delays, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its decisions on the Kentucky Department of Water’s (DOW) amendments to the Kentucky Water Quality Regulations. Unfortunately, the EPA has approved substantive changes to the selenium freshwater chronic standard that will not adequately protect aquatic life and will be difficult, if not impossible to enforce at mountaintop removal coal mining sites throughout eastern Kentucky.

In theory, states review their water quality standards every three years in an effort to make sure these standards are up-to-date with current science and are protective of aquatic life. In some cases, however, the review becomes an opportunity for special interests to influence state agencies. This year, under pressure from the coal industry, the Kentucky DOW proposed to weaken selenium standards. Standards are used to set permit limits for industries that may discharge pollutants into public waterways. Though some mines in Kentucky are known to discharge selenium into streams, the Kentucky general permit for valley fills does not currently include selenium permit limits.

Selenium is a naturally occurring element that can be released into streams through mountaintop removal coal mining. Once in the water, selenium bioaccumulates in fish and other aquatic life, increasing in concentration up the food chain. Selenium is toxic to aquatic life at very low levels. For these reasons, Appalachian Voices and our allies have been working to challenge Kentucky’s proposed selenium standards.

Kentucky DOW proposed to raise the acute selenium standard from 20 ug/L in the water column to 258 ug/L in the water column. They also proposed changing the chronic standard of 5 ug/L to a more complicated system where a level of 5 ug/L in the water column would not be enforceable, but instead would trigger the need to sample fish tissue. The new chronic standard would be 8.6 ug/g in fish tissue, or 19.2 ug/g in egg/ovary tissue. The 5 ug/L water concentration would only be an enforceable limit if no fish were available for sampling.

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Appalachian Coal Losing Another Customer: Eastern Kentucky as a Case Study

Thursday, October 24th, 2013 | Posted by Brian Sewell | No Comments

TVA's Paradise coal plant in Muhlenberg County, Ky., relies entirely on coal from the Illinois Basin, which includes mines in western Kentucky.

TVA’s Paradise coal plant in Muhlenberg County, Ky., relies entirely on coal from the Illinois Basin, which includes mines in western Kentucky. Recently, utilities in the Southeast have looked beyond Central Appalachia, even to reserves within a day’s drive, to purchase cheaper coal.

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Paradise Fossil Plant sits on the banks of western Kentucky’s Green River. The largest coal plant in the state, Paradise consumes approximately 7.3 million tons per year — none of which comes from Central Appalachian coal mines.

Although TVA recently announced it was cutting almost all of its use of Central Appalachian coal, a spokesperson for the utility pointed out that Paradise will still receive coal mined in Kentucky. But that portion of TVA’s coal purchases will be from mines in Kentucky’s western coalfields, just a few hundred miles from most of the state’s Appalachian coal-producing counties. Even just a day’s drive apart, the two reserves have dramatically different outlooks.

According to the most recent Kentucky Quarterly Coal Report, between April and June of this year, western and Eastern Kentucky coal mines each produced around 10 million tons of coal. But on a longer timeline, production and employment in Kentucky’s western counties have steadily increased while the state’s Central Appalachian mines have suffered.

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In Defense of the Earth: An Appalachian Poet’s Presence

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013 | Posted by Brian Sewell | 3 Comments

Stream “Wendell Berry, Poet & Prophet” below or watch it on Moyers & Company by clicking here.

Widely celebrated as a caretaker of the culture and myth of rural America, Wendell Berry has a distinct drawl and speaks like he writes, eloquently but with simple words and equal parts conviction and compassion. Beyond being a renowned poet and author, Berry is an abiding presence in the environmental movement — especially among those of us who live in or love Appalachia.

A new presentation by Moyers & Company, “Wendell Berry, Poet & Prophet,” provides a portrait of the literary icon’s growth and influence, his relationship with the land and his hopes for humanity.

Among the topics covered — industrialization, wealth inequality, the indifference of elected leaders to environmental degradation — is Berry’s anti-mountaintop removal activism, and his participation in a four-day sit-in at the Kentucky governor’s office to protest mountaintop removal.

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Concerns Grow Over the EPA’s Stance on Selenium Pollution

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 | Posted by Erin Savage | 3 Comments

Protect Appalachia's Waterways from Toxic Selenium Pollution

In February, we wrote about the new selenium water quality standards being proposed by the Kentucky Division of Water and urged concerned citizens to express their concern to the state. Now, Kentucky has gone ahead with its proposal, submitting the new standards to the EPA for review. While the EPA may deny Kentucky’s proposed standards, concerns are growing that the EPA, influenced by states beholden to their mining industries, may release its own inadequate standard. That is why we are urging people to tell EPA to stop Kentucky, and to require strong, enforceable standards in every state.

Kentucky High Selenium Coal Seems

Selenium is of particular concern in Kentucky and other Central Appalachian states because it is often released into streams through mountaintop removal coal mining and is toxic to aquatic life at very low levels. Even though many high-selenium coal seams are mined in Kentucky, companies typically claim there will be no selenium discharge when first applying for a permit, so that the pollutant is not included on the permit. Selenium has rarely been included on mining permits in Central Appalachia, effectively allowing companies to avoid monitoring or treating it, unless citizens force them to with lawsuits. A recent victory in a lawsuits over illegal selenium discharges from a Virginia surface mining operation indicates that selenium pollution is a widespread problem at mountaintop removal mines across Central Appalachia.

Kentucky has faced increased pressure from citizens and the EPA to include selenium standards on pollution discharge permits, so that water quality is adequately protected. Unfortunately for the coal companies, selenium is expensive to treat and difficult to keep out of streams impacted by surface mining in high-selenium coal seams. Adding selenium to permits would mean that many coal companies have to start paying for a much larger portion of the damage they create. It appears that the state is helping coal companies find a way to avoid responsibility for selenium discharges. By increasing the legal limit of selenium allowed in streams and including fish tissue-based standards that are difficult, if not impossible to enforce, the state will allow many companies to continue to skirt their responsibility to the land and the people of Kentucky.

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Court Victory for Clean Water in Kentucky: The Battle Continues

Friday, July 19th, 2013 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Acidic mine water being discharged from one of Frasure Creek’s Kentucky coal mines

Last week, an attempt by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to toss concerned citizens out of court failed.

Judge Phillip Shepherd denied a motion to dismiss our challenge of a settlement between Frasure Creek Mining and the cabinet. Appalachian Voices and our partners KFTC, Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance, will now be allowed to proceed with our argument that the settlement should be vacated.

In October of 2010, we filed a Notice of Intent to Sue Frasure Creek for submitting false water monitoring data. Frasure Creek and the cabinet reached a settlement for those violations, but it has not been approved by the court. Before that, the data Frasure Creek submitted to the state never showed any violations. After our legal action, they switched labs and began showing hundreds of water quality violations every month.

We attempted to sue Frasure Creek for these subsequent violations, but the cabinet filed a complaint in state administrative court for the same violations. We intervened and became full parties to that case, but then a slap on the wrist settlement was entered between Frasure Creek and the cabinet completely without our consent. Our current challenge to this settlement is based on the fact that we are full parties in the case yet we had no say in the settlement’s creation.

The cabinet attempted to get our challenge thrown out because they claimed that we did not follow proper procedures when we filed it, but the judge dismissed their arguments. Now, the cabinet must respond to the substance of our challenge.

>> Click here to read the ruling
>> Click here to read more about this challenge
>> Click here for more information on our Kentucky Litigation

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