It’s hard to imagine any other agency of state government could get caught in such a sweeping failure to do its job without producing a sharper reaction from lawmakers and the governor.
The tacit admissions in a consent judgment proposed by the Energy and Environment Cabinet and two coal companies are stunning and hugely embarrassing.
Yet we’ve heard not a peep from any elected official calling for an overhaul or beefed-up funding. Could it be because we’re talking about coal?
In the settlement, the Cabinet admits to hundreds of instances of the coal companies filing inaccurate water-monitoring reports. Regulators also allowed the mining companies, among the state’s largest, to go for as long as three years without filing the quarterly water-monitoring reports required by law.
In short, Kentucky, which is responsible for enforcing the Clean Water Act, cannot say whether these mining operations and others have violated their water pollution permits because there has been such a vacuum of oversight.
Altogether, 2,765 violations by 103 mines are acknowledged in the settlement announced by the Beshear administration.
The thousands of violations were brought to light by environmental groups who examined pollution-monitoring records required of mining operations.
Saying the violations could net $75 million in penalties, the environmental groups filed a 60-day notice that they planned to sue the coal companies, ICG and Frasure Creek Mining, in federal court.
The notice triggered investigations and performance audits by the state that further documented the problems. …
Only four states have more water-pollution permits to enforce under the Clean Water Act than Kentucky. But Kentucky ranks 49th in funding for the program responsible for overseeing the permits. …
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should rectify inequities in Clean Water Act funding that fall far short of Kentucky’s needs.
And the Legislature simply must raise fees on the coal industry to pay for oversight and enforcement. Lawmakers, ever beholden to coal, can console themselves that they’re raising fees to protect the industry from future lawsuits, fines and public humiliation.
— Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader