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 Judge declined the State’s request, saying he’d like to hear more before coming to a decision.
As they had done last year, the groups had targeted the two companies’ water pollution discharge reports in a threatened lawsuit two months ago.
“None of the enforcement action brought by the cabinet on Friday would have happened without us,” Donna Lisenby, with Appalachian Voices and Riverkeeper, said in an email. “The scope of the pollution problem by coal companies in Kentucky is staggering.”
Shepherd, a former top state environmental regulator, allowed the two groups and several others, including Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, to join the lawsuit and challenge the state.
While Scott credited the groups with bringing the initial allegations to the state’s attention in testimony on Wednesday, he said Thursday that state inspectors would have taken action on the new round of allegations without the environmentalists’ latest legal prodding.
You can follow the case via KFTC’s blog (and through Appalachian Voices) and on Twitter, where it appears the Judge on Friday urged all parties to return to the negotiating table rather than stay in litigation forever. Suggesting that settlement talks need be re-opened is a bit of a blow to the Beshear/State forces who just want their current settlement with the mining companies to stand… but sometimes that’s how the mountain crumbles.