An attorney for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet told a federal judge Wednesday that the bankrupt coal company Blackjewel has accrued nearly 300 environmental violations since it entered bankruptcy in July.
“It’s essential that these violations are addressed, abated, and that they stop accruing,” Cabinet attorney Lena Seward told bankruptcy judge Frank Volk in the hearing. “There is potential for human and environmental harm.”
The conflict comes months after Blackjewel’s bankruptcy left 1,700 coal miners in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming out of work, and sparked a months-long railroad blockade by miners demanding unpaid wages. Blackjewel’s bankruptcy also highlighted growing concerns about unreclaimed mine land and employee benefits as coal companies fold under economic pressures.
At the same hearing, Appalachian Citizens Law Center attorney Mary Cromer, speaking on behalf of a number of environmental nonprofit groups, told the judge that despite the best efforts of multiple watchdog teams, no one had been able to fully account for the status of every Blackjewel mine.
“As these mine sites are sitting, their conditions are degrading, the failure to maintain them is ultimately increasing the cost of reclamation. And that increased cost of reclamation, for the mines that are going to be abandoned, is going to fall on the citizens that we represent,” Cromer said.
According to documents filed in the bankruptcy proceeding, 63 permits have not been sold, which means millions in potential reclamation costs could fall to surety bond holders or state taxpayers. An additional 157 permits have buyers, but Cabinet attorney Seward said none of those companies have filed the necessary application for permit transfer to take responsibility for cleanup costs. A further 11 permits are under negotiation or pending sale.
A representative for Blackjewel said the company took its reclamation obligations seriously, and is doing the best it can with limited resources. But Judge Volk asserted Blackjewel itself has the most authority to press purchasers to submit the required paperwork, a responsibility the company appears to have minimized.