LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Environmental groups are going to court to argue that Kentucky and West Virginia are doing a poor job of enforcing federal clean water rules.
They are suing to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to respond to a request to strip the two states of their authority to enforce the rules. The groups say the states have done a poor job enforcing controls on pollution draining from surface mines.
The groups, including the Sierra Club and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, attempted years ago to rescind Kentucky and West Virginia's authority over water discharges at mines, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports (http://bit.ly/1KoXiLF). They say EPA did not respond to those requests.
The groups filed lawsuits Wednesday in federal court in Kentucky and West Virginia seeking to compel answers from the EPA.
Kentucky regulators disputed claims that they've failed to protect water quality.
"Although we have not seen the actual documents, we believe we are implementing the delegated programs appropriately and in accordance with state and federal requirements," said Dick Brown, spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.
Environmental groups asked the EPA to rescind West Virginia's enforcement of clean-water rules in 2009 and followed with a similar request covering Kentucky in 2010.
The groups contend that Kentucky has fallen short several ways, including not having enough employees to adequately police surface mining; failing to set proper limits on selenium, iron and other pollutants; and improperly issuing mining permits under rules that mean less scrutiny on the front end.
State officials have "admitted publicly several times that Kentucky does not have the capacity to enforce the Clean Water Act," Mary Love, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, said in a news release. "In fact, the governor has proposed and the legislature has repeatedly cut the budget for the enforcement of environmental laws, making it impossible for the state to enforce the law.
In a case in Kentucky, some environmental and citizen groups charged in 2010 that Frasure Creek Mining had submitted falsified reports to the state and that regulators had failed to catch the problem. After years of legal wrangling over a settlement on fines for the company, Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled last year that Frasure Creek had systematically subverted the law and that the state didn't have enough regulators or money to properly monitor companies that routinely violated their duty to check for pollution.
The Sierra Club joined the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy in the West Virginia suit.
Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com