Environmental Groups Tell Bankruptcy Court Blackjewel Continues To Skirt Obligations

Jun 18, 2020

A coalition of conservation and environmental groups is once again calling attention to pollution and unmet environmental obligations at mines controlled by now-bankrupt coal operator Blackjewel LLC. 

In a letter submitted to the bankruptcy court on Wednesday, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and eight other groups said the majority of the companies’ surface mine permits in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia have not been transferred to new operators as the company promised. 

The mines also continue to amass environmental violations, despite assurances by Blackjewel that mine reclamation and other environmental obligations would be taken care of by the new owners of the mines. 

“It is unfortunately very clear that Blackjewel is allowing the mining operations for which permits remain in its possession to deteriorate and accrue mounting numbers of permit violations,” the letter states. 

In Kentucky, the groups say the company has failed to transfer 149 of the company’s 213 permits. Fifty-nine transfers have been submitted. Only five permits have been transferred to new owners. 

In Virginia, 34 transfers have been completed, while eight are in process. Of the 29 permits where no action has been taken, the groups note four were slated to go to Kooper Glo Mining

In West Virginia, five of the 12 permits have been transferred. 

“We are therefore very concerned that Blackjewel will seek to abandon those permits during the course of this bankruptcy,” the groups write. 

According to their analysis of state and federal databases, Blackjewel mines continue to wrack up environmental violations, including complaints about water quality, sediment control and pollution exceeding discharge limits. 

In Kentucky, the groups found the number of on-the-ground violations jumped from 42 in the first quarter of 2019 to 119 in the first quarter of 2020. The bulk of the violations occurred at mines where there have been no moves to transfer the permit to a new owner. 

In West Virginia, the Department of Environmental Protection has issued 13 violation notices at Blackjewel mines still controlled by the company, the letter details. That includes serious issues reported at the Rush Creek mine complex near the Kanawha State Forest.

In a Tuesday filing, Kentucky environmental regulators echoed some concerns raised by the environmental groups. The state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet asked the court to force Blackjewel to bring its mining operations into compliance. The agency said the problem has escalated even after two court hearings addressed the issues earlier this year. It cited 606 outstanding violations of Kentucky’s mining laws and 13,125 violations of their state water quality permits, primarily the result of failing to submit discharge monitoring reports.

“Yet, instead of using the Estate’s limited resources to maintain their operations necessary to avoid causing harm to the affected land and water, the Debtors continue to spend millions of dollars on professional fees – an amount in excess of five million dollars ($5,000,000.00) for the third quarter calendar year 2019 alone,” the agency said. 

In an email, a spokesperson for FTI Consulting, which is representing Blackjewel, said the company had no comment at this time.