Fines total $245,000 against two companies accused of violating environmental rules in Eastern Kentucky, federal regulators said.
One case involves a Bell County company that federal officials said buried stream areas without a permit at a surface coal mine.
The other is against a coal-preparation plant in Pike County cited for illegally discharging contaminants into a creek. The state also cited environmental violations at that plant, said Jeff Cummins, director of the Division of Enforcement at the state Department for Environmental Protection. The federal enforcement action and the state’s case were independent of each other, Cummins said.
In the Bell County case, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Middlesboro-based Apollo Fuels improperly put rock and dirt into two tributaries of the Clear Fork of the Cumberland River while building a hollow fill and two sediment ponds at a surface mine in the southern part of the county in 2009.
Coal companies must reclaim hillsides in Eastern Kentucky after blasting them apart to uncover coal, but the material swells, so it can’t all go back on the original spot.
The companies put excess rock and dirt in nearby hollows, creating fills. That often buries stream sections, which has added to controversy over mountaintop mining in Appalachia.
The law allows mining companies to put fill material in stream areas, but regulators must review the request to do so and must issue a permit.
The EPA said Apollo Fuels filled 1,195 linear feet of stream area without a permit.
The company contends it did have a permit for its reclamation activities and that it remained surprised the EPA disagreed with its actions, said Ethan Ware, an attorney from South Carolina who represents the company.
Apollo Fuels did not admit or deny the EPA’s allegations, but it agreed to pay a penalty of $135,000, according to the settlement.
“They stepped forward and were willing to put it behind them,” Ware said of the company.
The case in Pike County involves a preparation plant at Millard operated by a company called Coal Operator 1 LLC.
Prep plants see use in washing coal.
The plant, once known as the Viking plant, is now the Coal Essence plant. Federal records list NewLead Holdings Ltd. as the current controller of the plant, which has been in operation since at least the mid-1970s.
The EPA cited several violations at the plant after inspecting it in May and July 2012.
Regulators charged the plant had an unpermitted drainage point into Hopkins Creek; that it did not report some information on water-monitoring reports; that berms required to control runoff were eroded; the company hadn’t properly controlled coal dust and coal waste that could wash into the creek; and it had discharged higher levels of manganese, iron and other contaminants than allowed.
EPA inspectors saw dark-brown and black stormwater runoff from the plant flowing into Hopkins Creek on one visit, according to the settlement agreement.
The agreement stated the plant operator has since put a better management plan in place and has submitted photos and information that indicate it made changes designed to protect the stream.
The company did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement but agreed to pay a $110,000 penalty.
Cummins said Kentucky inspectors cited the plant operator over a separate instance of fouling the creek with black water in April 2013.
That notice of violation is pending, he said.