May 6, 2009
Contact: Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club, 512.477.2152
Landmark Tennessee, Kentucky Settlements a “Double Victory” for Appalachia
Unpermitted Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Violations Point to Widespread Unlawful Stream Destruction
TECO Coal and Appolo Fuels to Pay for Illegal Mining
Eastern Tennessee & Eastern Kentucky - Sierra Club, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC), Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM) and Tennessee Clean Water Network (TCWN) today announced two settlements over separate legal claims against coal companies that operated mountaintop removal coal mines without permits. Appolo Fuels, Inc. will pay for having destroyed streams at its Jellico mine site in Claiborne County, Tennessee. TECO Coal and subsidiary Clintwood Elkhorn will pay for its illegal coal mining practices in Pike County, Kentucky.
Mining companies’ flagrant disregard for the Clean Water Act permitting process, designed to protect the health and safety of waterways and communities, is a problem across Appalachia. The legal actions against Appolo and TECO are part of a larger effort to stop illegal mining throughout Appalachia. The groups will continue to push for increased public involvement and a more open permitting process to prevent future illegal mining.
"These settlement agreements send a message to coal companies that they will not get away with illegal mining," said Mary Anne Hitt, Deputy Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. "This taste of justice for Appalachians should help prevent similar destruction elsewhere in the region."
Appolo Fuels, Inc. will pay approximately $120,000 to the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation to protect land in the eastern part of the state. The payment comes in exchange for a commitment from SOCM, TCWN and the Sierra Club to drop their claims against Appolo for the company’s illegal filling of streams in conjunction with the mine. The groups had notified Appolo in June 2008 of their intention to sue over the company’s destruction of streams at its Jellico mine site in Claiborne County, Tennessee without the permits required by law.
"We couldn't be happier," said Cathie Bird of SOCM. "Claiborne County has been monumentally wrecked by many years of surface mining, and this settlement may help get a little piece of it back."
Officials with the Army Corps of Engineers had earlier confirmed to the coalition that Appolo has been operating outside the law, dumping mining waste into streams, constructing sediment holding ponds in streams, and mining through streams at the Jellico mine site. According to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Appolo illegally disturbed twenty streams at Jellico mine.
"The Tennessee Clean Water Network is pleased with the cooperation of Appolo Fuels in redressing their violations of the Clean Water Act and excited at the opportunity to participate in the protection of water resources in northeastern Tennessee," said Axel Ringe of the Sierra Club Tennessee Chapter and TCWN.
In the Kentucky settlement, Clintwood Elkhorn (a TECO Coal subsidiary) will pay approximately $250,000 to the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Foundation for stream restoration activities in the Levisa Fork watershed. The payment comes in exchange for a commitment from KFTC and the Sierra Club to drop their September 2008 lawsuit against Clintwood Elkhorn for illegal coal mining practices in Pike County.
"It's a shame that the state couldn't enforce the law and keep TECO from further destroying our land and steams," said Doug Justice, a resident of Island Creek in Pike County. "If only the state would do their job we wouldn't be in this mess."
The lawsuit that gave rise to this settlement claimed that Clintwood Elkhorn dumped rocks, dirt and other mining waste into important headwater streams in the Millers Creek watershed without the permits required by law for such dumping. The EPA has 45 days from today to review the proposed settlement.
Mountaintop removal mining is a destructive form of coal mining that has already contaminated or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams. The mining poisons drinking water, lays waste to wildlife habitat, increases the risk of flooding and wipes out entire communities. With explosives and bulldozers standing by across Appalachia, it will take tough enforcement and more rule changes and legislation to end mountaintop removal coal mining.
The Tennessee groups are represented by Joe Lovett with the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment and attorney Mary Eugenia Lewis. The Kentucky groups are represented by Lovett and by attorney W. H. Graddy.
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