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Activists challenging coal company settlement in court

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A judge declined on Thursday to approve a
$660,000 settlement between the state and two coal companies for
water violations that environmental groups say should bring harsher
penalties.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip J. Shepherd was asked by
attorneys for the state's Division of Environmental Protection to
halt the proceedings and endorse the state's settlement with
International Coal Group and Frasure Creek Mining.
A coalition of four environmental groups says the state went too
soft on the coal operators and the fines should be in the millions.
Shepherd allowed the groups to intervene in the settlement
proceedings.
John Horne, an attorney for the state Division of Environmental
Protection, told Shepherd on Thursday that the environmentalists
"have now had their day in court," but they have failed to prove
the settlement is inadequate.
"The fact that the (groups) don't like the settlement is not
enough," Horne said.
Shepherd will eventually make a final ruling on the settlement.
But on Thursday he said he wasn't ready and denied Horne's motion
for an early ruling. Attorneys for the coal companies and the state
will continue with their own witnesses on Friday, the hearing's
third day.
During testimony on Thursday, a state official said inspectors
found discolored water near one of Frasure Creek's discharge sites.
Tom Gabbard, the Division of Water's compliance manager, read a
report that said the water had an "oxidized orange discoloration"
and levels of manganese that exceeded the maximum allowed under
law.
The environmental groups have alleged the coal companies, from
2008 to 2009, falsified water discharge reports at the mine sites
or duplicated information from previous reports.
Eric Chance, a member of North Carolina-based Appalachian
Voices, testified Thursday that he observed water reports submitted
by the companies "that were exact copies of others."
"As I continued to go through them, I noticed numbers were very
similar to each other," Chance said. He said the groups found 42
duplicate water quality reports during their investigation of about
1,200 reports.
ICG has said the reporting errors were not intentional. Both
companies have hired new labs to perform water discharge quality
tests at the mine sites.
The settlement reached between the state and the coal companies
requires ICG, which is now owned by Arch Coal of St. Louis, to pay
$350,000 in penalties and Frasure to pay $310,000 for 2,700
violations.
Appalachian Voices, along with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth,
Kentucky Riverkeeper and New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance,
brought the violations to the state after seeking the documents
through open records requests.
The groups made similar allegations of inadequate water
discharge reporting in a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit against
Bardstown, Ky.-based Nally & Hamilton Enterprises in May. That
litigation is pending.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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