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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Targets Massey Coal Company

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (photo by JLW)
From Huffington Post.
Should a corporation with a track record of frequent legal violations be allowed to operate? Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Free Speech For People say no.
With over 35,000 petition signatures, the group, also led by Appalachian Voices and the Rainforest Action Network, is calling on the state of Delaware to revoke the corporate charter of the Appalachian coal mining company Massey Energy.
Speaking Monday in a press conference call, Kennedy described the campaign, urging Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden to decharter Massey Energy, explaining the company's history. He said, "It's our position that when a company abuses its charter, that the attorney general has the responsibility in the state where it's chartered, to revoke that charter."
During the call, Kennedy showed no sympathy for Massey, saying, “This is a company that at every level of its functioning, in every aspect of its culture, is offensive to the public interest.”
He revealed that between 2006 and 2010, "Massey, by its own admissions, violated the Clean Water Act 63,000 times." Kennedy said that during a televised debate last year, former Massey CEO Don Blankenship admitted that Massey could not operate profitably in the marketplace without breaking the law.
Massey Energy, which was bought by competitor Alpha Natural resources for $7.1 billion earlier this year, is also known for its violations of labor and mining safety laws.
A report commissioned by the governor of West Virginia found that Massey was responsible for the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster that left 29 miners dead. The report concluded:

Ultimately, the responsibility for the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine lies with the management of Massey Energy. The company broke faith with its workers by frequently and knowingly violating the law and blatantly disregarding known safety practices while creating a public perception that its operations exceeded industry safety standards.
Calling the corporation a “criminal enterprise,” Kennedy also explained that Massey has led the drive for mountaintop removal, a form of coal mining which has, “over the past decade, cut down 500 of the largest mountains in West Virginia.”
HuffPost blogger Jeff Biggers writes, "Far from simply being an environmental issue, mountaintop removal is killing American residents." A peer-reviewed study published in July linked 60,000 cases of cancer in Appalachia directly to mountaintop removal.
Another study, published in June, "found 'significantly higher' rates of birth defects in babies born near mountaintop removal mining sites than those in non-mining areas," reports HuffPost's Travis Donovan.
During the press conference call, Kennedy said Massey is a company that "cannot function ... without subverting democracy."
Citing Blankenship's political ties, Kennedy explained that the former-CEO has a long record of campaign contributions to congressional and judicial candidates who are pro-business and support the coal industry.
Kennedy added, "The Supreme Court of the United States, which is probably the most corporate friendly Supreme Court that we've had in this nation, at least since the Gilded Age, rebuked West Virginia's Supreme Court for its ties to the coal industry and to Massey in particular."
Click here for more information about the campaign to revoke Massey's charter. Be sure to check out the film "The Last Mountain," making the case against mountaintop removal mining, in theaters across the country.
Listen to the call with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Groups Sue Coal Mine news report CBS 42

Black Warrior RIVERKEEPER and Hurricane CREEKKEEPER team up in a lawsuit against Black Warrior Minerals coal mine to prevent the further degradation of Hurricane Creek in Tuscaloosa Alabama. 

Enviros Sue Mining Co. Over Alabama River Pollution

Enviros Sue Mining Co. Over Alabama River Pollution

Law360, New York (September 13, 2011, 10:15 PM ET) -- Two Alabama environmental groups on Tuesday sued a coal mining company for allegedly polluting the state's Hurricane Creek and Black Warrior River by regularly violating the Clean Water Act's New Source Performance Standards.

According to the complaint, brought by the nonprofits Friends of Hurricane Creek and Black Warrior Riverkeeper, coal mining company Black Warrior Minerals Inc. has committed more than 1,200 violations of the CWA's standards over the past five years in the operation of its Fleetwood Mine in Tuscaloosa County.

The pollutants from the mine have been infiltrating several areas of the creek, which is located in western Alabama and is a tributary of the Black Warrior River, according to the complaint.

“Fleetwood Mine's numerous violations of the Clean Water Act at Hurricane Creek and its tributaries are unacceptable," Black Warrior Riverkeeper representative Nelson Brooke said in a joint statement released by the two groups. "Orange, polluted water flowing from this strip mine is an unwelcome sight along this beautiful stretch of Hurricane Creek. Coal mines like this one should not be allowed to operate if they cannot meet applicable effluent standards."

According to the complaint, acid or ferruginous mine drainage resulting from coal mining is subject to the CWA's standards.

Black Warrior Minerals regularly exceeded the legal amounts of manganese and iron that are allowed to be discharged from a mining operation of Fleetwood's capacity, the groups contend.

The groups add that the creek and river are interdependent in terms of chemical, physical and biological integrity, and therefore are both harmed by the alleged pollutants.

"Coal mining has been a serious problem in Hurricane Creek for many generations, causing it to be placed on the EPA's impaired streams list," said Friends of Hurricane Creek representative John Wathen in the statement. "Black Warrior Minerals has not only failed to reduce those pollutants but has exceeded effluent standards repeatedly and should be held accountable. The state has failed to do so."

The two groups are asking the court to enjoin Black Warrior Minerals from continuing to operate its mine in violation of the CWA's standards and to impose fines between $32,500 and $37,500 for each CWA violation.

Black Warrior Minerals could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.

The groups are represented by Black Warrior Riverkeeper staff attorney Eva Dillard and David Ludder of The Law Offices of David A. Ludder PLLC.

Counsel information for Black Warrior Minerals was not immediately available.

The case is Black Warrior Riverkeeper Inc. et al. v. Black Warrior Minerals, Inc., case number 7:11-cv-03307, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

--Editing by Kat Laskowski.

Coal company faces lawsuit alleging pollution of Black Warrior River

Coal company faces lawsuit alleging pollution of Black Warrior River
Published: Tuesday, September 13, 2011, 5:17 PM Updated: Tuesday, September 13, 2011, 5:31 PM
By Kent Faulk -- The Birmingham News

Riverkeeper 09/14/10Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke, who is among the plaintiffs. ( Beverly Taylor/The Birmingham News )
Two environmental groups today filed a federal lawsuit claiming a coal mining company's strip mine in Tuscaloosa County is polluting Hurricane Creek and the Black Warrior River.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Birmingham against Black Warrior Minerals by Black Warrior Riverkeeper, staff riverkeeper Nelson Brooke, the Friends of Hurricane Creek and that group's creekkeeper, John Wathen.
Efforts to reach an official with the company for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.
The lawsuit claims that Black Warrior Mineral's Fleetwood Mine is violating the Clean Water Act by discharging pollutants into Hurricane Creek, a tributary of the Black Warrior River, and into unnamed tributaries of Hurricane Creek.
The lawsuit asks that a judge: declare that the company has unlawfully operated the mine in violation of federal environmental standards; bar the company from continuing to operate the mine in violation of the standards; and assess civil penalties against the company for violations.
The two groups catalogued more than 1,200 New Source Performance Standards violations at the Fleetwood Mine over the past five years, according to a joint statement from the two groups on Tuesday. The mine has violated standards for iron, manganese, total suspended solids and pH, the lawsuit claims.
"Fleetwood Mine's numerous violations of the Clean Water Act at Hurricane Creek and its tributaries are unacceptable," Brooke said in the statement. "Orange, polluted water flowing from this strip mine is an unwelcome sight along this beautiful stretch of Hurricane Creek. Coal mines like this one should not be allowed to operate if they cannot meet applicable effluent standards."
Most citizen lawsuits require a 60-day waiting period before a lawsuit can be filed, according to the groups' statement. But David Ludder, counsel for Friends of Hurricane Creek, said that Congress authorizes immediate citizen suits to enforce the standards rather than allowing violations to continue.

Two Waterkeeper Groups Sue Black Warrior Minerals’ Fleetwood Mine in Tuscaloosa


   

Two Waterkeeper Groups Sue Black Warrior Minerals’ Fleetwood Mine in Tuscaloosa
Black Warrior Minerals discharge into Hurricane Creek


Tuscaloosa – Nonprofit Waterkeeper organizations Black Warrior Riverkeeper and the Friends of Hurricane Creek filed a lawsuit today against Black Warrior Minerals, Inc. in United States District Court.  The lawsuit alleges that pollution from Black Warrior Minerals’ Fleetwood Mine in Tuscaloosa County is polluting Hurricane Creek, a tributary of the Black Warrior River. 

Hurricane CREEKKEEPER

According to John Wathen, Hurricane Creekkeeper for the Friends of Hurricane Creek, “Coal mining has been a serious problem in Hurricane Creek for many generations causing it to be placed on the EPA's impaired streams list. The Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) assessment calls for reductions in heavy metals discharges. Black Warrior Minerals has not only failed to reduce those pollutants but has exceeded permit limits, effluent standards and the TMDL repeatedly and should be held accountable. The state has failed to do so. With no recourse left, we have joined forces with Black Warrior Riverkeeper to step in to enforce the laws." Wathen is also the Chair for the Citizens Coal Council

Black Warrior RIVERKEEPER

Nelson Brooke, staff Riverkeeper at Black Warrior Riverkeeper, added, “Fleetwood Mine's numerous violations of its wastewater discharge permit into Hurricane Creek and its tributaries are unacceptable.  Orange, polluted water flowing from this strip mine is an unwelcome sight along this beautiful stretch of Hurricane Creek.  Coal mines like this one should not be allowed to operate if they cannot meet weak permit limits.”

Black Warrior Minerals is in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA), which prohibits their Fleetwood Mine from discharging pollutants to waters of the United States except in compliance with applicable New Source Performance Standards (“NSPS”) for coal mining and any permit issued pursuant to the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”).  In their complaint, the two Waterkeeper Alliance member groups catalogued over 1,300 NSPS violations at the Fleetwood Mine over the past five years.  The mine has violated standards for iron, manganese, total suspended solids and pH.

Black Warrior Riverkepeer and the Friends of Hurricane Creek are asking the Court to enjoin Black Warrior Minerals from discharging pollutants from Fleetwood Mine in violation of the CWA and to assess appropriate penalties for the violations alleged.  Most citizen suits require a sixty day waiting period before suit can be filed.  However, in this situation, David Ludder, counsel for Friends of Hurricane Creek explains, “Congress authorizes immediate citizen suits to enforce NSPS rather than allowing those violations to continue.”

Eva Dillard, Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s Staff Attorney, added, “We expect the coal mines that operate in the Black Warrior River watershed to follow the law and comply with all regulatory standards and permits.  When they fail to do so, we are willing to take action to ensure that the law is properly applied and enforced.”
   
###


Nelson Brooke’s July 7, 2011 photo of Fleetwood Mine’s orange discharge polluting Hurricane Creek: http://www.blackwarriorriver.org/images/FleetwoodMine.jpg 


 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

State tries to explain deal on fines in coal pollution trial


Hey Everybody,
We got some great news coverage on the first day of our trial against the 2 largest mountaintop removal coal mining companies in Kentucky. Please facebook, tweet and blog. Help get the word out there about how Waterkeeper Alliance, Kentucky Riverkeeper and Appalachian Voices/Watauga Riverkeeper is fighting the good fight against law breaking coal companies.
Donna



 

State tries to explain deal on fines in coal pollution trial

FRANKFORT, KY. -- -- Kentucky environmental regulators on Wednesday were forced to explain in Franklin Circuit Court how they came up with fines of $670,000 for two coal companies instead of $720 million as calculated by environmental groups.The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet had originally sought a combined $1.25 million, but agreed to lower that after negotiations with the companies, Jeff Cummins, who oversees enforcement for the cabinet, said in his testimony.
"I looked at a breakdown of the types of penalties and used my experience and judgment and facts as I understood them," he told Judge Phillip Shepherd.
Cummins said he did not believe the companies saved much money by violating what cabinet officials largely described as administrative or paperwork violations.
A coalition of environmentalists who first brought the alleged violations to the attention of the state have insisted that state regulators were soft on the companies, and Wednesday they got their day in court.
After bringing thousands of alleged water pollution violations by the companies to the attention of the energy cabinet last year, they have been allowed to participate in the court case originally brought by the state as an enforcement action. The trial, which may wrap up on Thursday, pits groups such as Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and Waterkeeper Alliance against the energy cabinet and the two coal companies.
Last December, International Coal Group, now part of Arch Coal, had agreed to pay $350,000 for violations at 64 mining operations in eight eastern Kentucky counties. Frasure Creek Mining had agreed to pay $310,000 in fines covering violations involving 39 operations in six eastern Kentucky counties.
In her opening statement, the environmental groups' attorney, Mary Comer, said the agreement was not fair, reasonable or in the public interest. The groups have argued the penalties were too lenient for what they had found, including the companies repeatedly copying and pasting the same water quality discharge data at coal mines in 2009 and 2010.

The case lifted some of the veils that typically surround legal action against violators of laws like the Clean Water Act, despite objections by the energy cabinet that the environmental groups' court involvement would set a precedent that would lead to "chaos" in the court system.Information about how the state determines environmental penalties "will be used by defendants (against the state) in every court proceeding from here to doomsday," said Mary Stephens, an energy cabinet attorney.
But Shepherd, who once led the cabinet, rejected almost all her objections, saying he needed some of those details to determine if the penalties were appropriate.
"I understand your protection of the cabinet's deliberative process," Shepherd told Stephens. "But the more the court understands the process, it probably helps your case -- and that there was a logical basis."
During testimony, state officials acknowledged that they did not know the number of pollution discharge pipes used by the companies and that they don't always count each violation when assessing fines.
Another issue that came up is whether the cabinet downplayed the severity of the alleged violations, deeming them to be just administrative or paperwork mistakes instead of actual excess releases of pollution.
Shepherd questioned R. Bruce Scott, the commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection, asserting the "whole integrity of enforcement process" relies on accurate discharge data as reported by the companies. With so much erroneous data, "How will the cabinet ever determine if there is a water pollution violation?" he asked Scott.
State officials suspected there might be actual pollution violations but that the agency needed more evidence before it acted, Scott said.
It has subsequently found that evidence, and last week, he said, the state brought new enforcement cases against the two companies, alleging pollution violations.
"We clearly have (new) violations today we need to take action on, and we have," Scott said in court.
Details about those enforcement actions were not available on Wednesday.

--
Donna Marie Lisenby
Upper Watauga Riverkeeper
a program of Appalachian Voices
191 Howard Street
Boone, NC  28607
828-262-1500

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