Judge Grants Environmental Groups the Right To Intervene in Kentucky Clean Water Act Case

Cross-posted from Appalachian Voices

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, February 11, 2011

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CONTACTS
Donna Lisenby…. 704-277-6055…. donna@appvoices.org
Sandra Diaz….407-739-6465…. sandra@appvoices.org
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A Kentucky judge today granted environmental groups a motion to intervene in a legal case against two coal companies in violation of the Clean Water Act.

State Court Judge Phillip Shepherd set a precedent by issuing an order granting four environmental groups’ motion to intervene in a lawsuit between the State Energy and Environment Cabinet and defendants, ICG and Frasure Creek Mining, the two largest coal companies in Kentucky. The ruling marks the first time a third party intervention has been allowed in a state proceeding between a potential Clean Water Act violator and a state agency in Kentucky.

The plaintiffs in the case include Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance as well as four individual citizens.

Saying it would be “an abuse of discretion to deny those citizens and environmental groups the right to participate in this action,” Judge Shepherd ordered that the groups be allowed to fully participate in the legal proceedings leading up to a June 14th hearing on whether the proposed settlement between the Cabinet and the coal companies is “fair, adequate, and reasonable, as well as consistent with the public interest.”

“We look forward to working cooperatively with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to execute the Judge’s orders to conduct additional inquiry and get to the bottom of this case,” said Donna Lisenby, Director of Water Programs for Appalachian Voices.

The case was brought against the coal companies by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet in December, in response to a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue filed by the environmental groups in October 2010. The original notice alleged 20,000 violations of the Clean Water Act, with potential fines of $740 million for the companies. The Cabinet’s proposed settlement attempted to fine the coal companies a combined total of only $660,000.

The environmental groups moved to intervene in the proposed settlement between the state and the coal companies, providing evidence that the state’s plan did not sufficiently address the alleged violations or deter future violations. The judge ordered the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to allow public comments on the case, eventually receiving many letters from citizens across the state.

Judge Phillips summed up the key reasons for granting the intervention in his order, stating “The Cabinet, by its own admission, has ignored these admitted violations for years. The citizens who brought these violations to light through their own efforts have the legal right to be heard when the Cabinet seeks judicial approval of a resolution of the environmental violations that were exposed through the efforts of these citizens. In these circumstances, it would be an abuse of discretion to deny those citizens and environmental groups the right to participate in this action, and to test whether the proposed consent decree is “fair, adequate, and reasonable, as well as consistent with the public interest.”

“We are very pleased with the decision, which will allow us to conduct depositions and other discovery,” said Peter Harrison, a third year law student with the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic who argued on behalf of the environmental organizations and citizens in court last month. “By allowing our intervention, the judge has ensured that the people’s interest in clean, healthy waters will be adequately represented as we move forward.”

“Enforcement of clean water laws, enacted to protect the public from harmful pollution, was intended to be a transparent process,” said Attorney Mary Cromer of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and counsel for the plantiffs. “By allowing intervention, the Court has made sure that will be the case. This is a major victory for the citizens of Kentucky.”

Community members like Ted Withrow, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, were encouraged by the decision. “For over 100 years the people of Kentucky have been blocked by King Coal and the government they control, from redress of wrongs inflicted upon them,” said Withrow. “Judge Shepherd is to be commended for his brave action in upholding the rights of the people. He has put his finger on the scales of justice today and attempted to bring balance.”

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For interviews and images, please contact sandra@appvoices.org.
Visit www.appvoices.org/kylitigation/ for details.
For video from the court room in January, please see: Kentucky Legal Action Update

Read the original post here:
Judge Grants Environmental Groups the Right To Intervene in Kentucky Clean Water Act Case

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