Kentuckys Asks for Emergency Hearing to Address Imminent Danger at Blackjewel Mine
By Liz Mooney
February 20, 2021 - The state of Kentucky requested an emergency hearing on bankrupt coal company Blackjewel’s failure to clean up its Bell County mine, which they warned could cause imminent danger to the health and safety of nearby citizens.
Bankruptcy court Judge Benjamin A. Kahn agreed and set a hearing for Wednesday morning.
Mining inspector Jason Keaton discovered on Jan. 12 that ponds on the mine were full and could breach at any time, spillways were eroded and one was almost washed out, and substandard water with high levels of Ph, iron and manganese was discharging into the Stoney Fork Branch and a nearby tributary. The ponds are located on a hill above several homes, a state highway and a railroad in Stoney Fork.
A Blackjewel strip mine can be seen across from Elvis Sowders’ property in Wallins Creek, Harlan County, Ky., Friday, October 2, 2020.
Photo: Silas Walker, Lexington Herald-Leader
Keaton said the conditions create an imminent danger to the health or safety of the public, and can reasonably be expected to cause significant, imminent environmental harm to land and water resources.
The permit had similar conditions in 2016, which led to mud, water and debris washing down the hillside, damaging the property of a resident below the pond.
The cabinet notified Blackjewel about the mine’s conditions on Jan. 12. According to the court order, inspectors have communicated with Blackjewel field representatives throughout February but no work has been done to fix the violations.
Keaton stated in an affidavit that he spoke to David Runyon, a field representative of the permittee, about meeting to discuss the work needed to correct the problems. According to Keaton, Runyon replied that he didn’t plan to meet with inspectors and was trying to “buy time” for Blackjewel’s attorneys.
Runyon also told him the contractor hadn’t been paid for a previous job and “wouldn’t even consider this job until they got paid.”
Blackjewel’s parent company, Revelation Energy, is in bankruptcy court looking to terminate its permits for more than 500 surface mines.
This isn’t the first complaint from the Energy and Environment Cabinet about Blackjewel’s failure to clean up damage from its mines. The cabinet in September highlighted violations on two permits that created potential imminent harm to nearby communities.
The cabinet presented a case of a Bell County couple who was afraid a rockslide would wipe out their home. They said the slope above their home was unstable and that water was running off the site.
Timothy Mayer, a lawyer with the Energy and Environment Cabinet, said at the September court hearing that the violations should be fixed immediately.
Kahn disagreed with the cabinet, saying Blackjewel hadn’t abandoned the property, and if an immediate threat arises, Blackjewel would be required to remediate it.
Inspectors noted Feb. 9 no personnel or equipment were on site to complete remedial measures and abate outstanding violations.
Photo Courtesy of Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet
Kahn did allow the cabinet to request an emergency hearing with a 48 hour notice for disputes over imminent threats.
“We don’t know what those threats might be that arise,” Kahn said. “We don’t know how imminent those might be, and they may be significant and imminent and require immediate attention.”
Liz Moomey is a Report for America Corps member covering Eastern Kentucky for the Lexington Herald-Leader. She is based in Pikeville.