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Attorney Plans Suit Against State for Failing to Make Coal Companies Clean Up

A lawyer in Eastern Kentucky has announced his plans to file suit against the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet for allegedly not enforcing its own orders. The suit stems from the cabinet’s 2008 finding that a coal company was responsible for destroying the water supply in a small Letcher County town.When the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources investigated several claims of contaminated water in the tiny town of Premium,it found Sapphire Coal’s mining was responsible and ordered the company to provide temporary drinking water to residents. In the orders, the state gives Sapphire two years to provide a permanent water replacement. Five years later, residents are still waiting.Attorney Ned Pillersdorf is representing 45 households in Premium. He filed suit against Sapphire, and has given the Energy and Environment Cabinet notice that he’ll sue them next month.The state is basically telling my folks that they’re not going to enforce their own orders and make the entity, the coal company who destroyed their water, get them a permanent water supply but instead is asking the taxpayers to foot the bill,” he said.Pillersdorf says his clients are upset they're still without a permanent water source (they're using bottled water delivered by Sapphire, as well as giant tanks of 'fire hydrant water' for washing), and they're also upset at the prospect of taxpayers paying for the coal company's damage.In an Op-Ed published in the Lexington Herald-Leader earlier this week, Pillersdorf wrote:

According to the Mountain Eagle, Sapphire Coal is currently owned by Ukranian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, whose $16 billion fortune placed him at No. 39 on Forbes' March 2012 list of the world's richest people. Alas, another reason why the cabinet won't enforce its own orders — they don't want to upset anyone who lives in the Ukraine. Let the folks in Letcher County suffer instead. Maybe the cabinet and its Ukranian friend should come to Premium and drink the well water. They would deserve the consequences. Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2013/03/27/2575704/coal-company-dirtied-water-state.html#storylink=cpy

The Energy and Environment Cabinet wouldn’t grant an interview, but sent the following statement via email: “The Department for Natural Resources did issue Notices of Noncompliance to Sapphire Coal for damage to the hydrologic balance in that area. Under the initial enforcement action, the company had two years to bring a permanent water supply to those affected. However, the number of impacted residences began to increase incrementally soon after the first noncompliance was issued. Because of that, the department extended the time frame under which Sapphire would provide the permanent water supply.  It should be noted that Sapphire has been cooperative throughout this process. They have supplied a temporary drinking water source to the impacted residents while working with local agencies to have the impacted residences attached to a proposed public water project. Forcing Sapphire into expensive and protracted litigation while the company awaits word of possible public funding for a permanent water supply solution, a project that should be underway soon, is counter-productive, in the department’s opinion.”
Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.