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Energy Wars

PA Prosecutors Eye Potential ‘Environmental Crimes’ of Oil and Gas Companies



In this 2015 file photo, people demonstrate against fracking at Gov. Tom Wolf’s inauguration. Eight people were arrested, but charges were later dismissed. Photo: Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

When he ran for attorney general in 2016, Josh Shapiro promised to prosecute the state’s fracking industry. In a campaign ad, he said regulators in Pennsylvania were being too soft on polluters.

“All they’ve ever gotten is a slap on the wrist. It’s time for that to change,” Shapiro promised. “I’ll hold the oil and gas companies criminally liable for poisoning our air and our drinking water.”

Shapiro appears to be living up to his campaign promise. He’s summoned witnesses before an investigative grand jury in Pittsburgh to look into possible “environmental crimes” related to oil and gas activities. Close to Philadelphia, he’s helping Delaware County prosecutors investigate the troubled Mariner East pipeline project, which has caused sinkholes, contaminated well water and leaked gasoline into waterways.

And Shapiro isn’t the only prosecutor in the state looking into the oil and gas business.

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan has launched a grand jury investigation of his own on the Mariner East.

“Somebody’s got to step in,” he said in January. “Our citizens are very concerned. As soon as our prosecutors and investigators started digging into this, they said, yes, there are significant problems. Yes, some of them could fall into criminal charges.”

A spokeswoman for Energy Transfer — the company behind the Mariner East, declined to be interviewed. But in a statement, she said there was no “legitimate basis” for an investigation and that the company would “aggressively” defend itself.

After years of complaints from residents living near fracking sites, pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructure, prosecutors are looking into whether any actions taken during the state’s fracking boom crossed the line of criminality.

This wouldn’t be the first time the AG’s office has pursued charges against the oil and gas industry. In 2013, it charged XTO, an ExxonMobil subsidiary, with violating state laws for a spill of fracking wastewater in Lycoming County. In 2011, the state charged a Greene County man with illegally dumping oil and gas wastewater throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Legal experts say it’s too early to say what will happen with these investigations, but they can end in penalties like fines for companies, or probation and even jail time for individuals.

Typically, these prosecutions involve proving the intent or the mental state of an individual or corporation, says David Uhlmann, a former environmental crimes prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice. Uhlmann, who’s now a law professor at Michigan, says companies can’t plead ignorance of the laws they’re accused of breaking.

“Ignorance of the law generally is not a defense in the United States and it’s not the case that companies can say ‘Oh well. I had no idea that the law applied to my conduct,’ or, ‘I didn’t realize what the law required,’” he said.

Subpoena power a key prosecution tool

Prosecutors have a high bar to clear — proving a case beyond a reasonable doubt. But they also have tools that other government agencies don’t, says Mark Freed, a former prosecutor in the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office who’s now in private practice.

Chief among them is the ability to convene a grand jury.

“They have the power to subpoena, so they are very useful in conducting investigations, gathering the evidence that’s needed then for the prosecuting agency to decide they have enough information to make a charge,” Freed said.

Having subpoena power means prosecutors can talk to people who’ve signed non-disclosure agreements with oil and gas companies.

Shapiro and his deputies have used that power to talk with Stephanie Hallowich, a western Pennsylvania woman who testified before the grand jury in Pittsburgh in February. Hallowich, at one time an outspoken critic of fracking, has not talked publicly about her case since signing a settlement with Range Resources in 2012.

Stephanie Hallowich with her children. The Hallowich’s sued after they say drilling activity made their children sick. The drilling companies say there is no medical evidence to link the illness to gas drilling. Photo: Mark Schmerling / Protecting Our Waters

In the lawsuit that preceded the settlement, Hallowich claimed Range Resources and two other oil and gas companies contaminated the air and water at her Washington County home. A letter from Shapiro asked attorneys involved in the case between Range Resources and Washington County resident Stacey Haney to preserve documents and evidence.

So is Range a target of Shapiro’s?

That’s tough to say, said Jamie Colburn, a former EPA attorney who’s now a Penn State law professor.

“You don’t open a grand jury investigation because you know who is guilty. You open a grand jury investigation to find out if anybody is guilty,” Colburn said.

Spokesmen for Range Resources didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

The attorney general’s office won’t even confirm there is an investigation, let alone discuss details of the case, though Shapiro has acknowledged (on Twitter) accepting a referral from Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland to investigate the Mariner East pipeline project.

Can a regulator be a target of an investigation?

Before Hallowich’s lawsuit was settled, it named the Department of Environmental Protection as a defendant. In other high-profile contamination cases, public agencies tasked with safeguarding water supplies have become targets for prosecution.

In Michigan, the state attorney general has charged 15 officials for their roles in the Flint Water crisis, and three have pleaded guilty. Shapiro himself charged Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority with more than 150 counts related to lead in Pittsburgh’s drinking water.

So far, there’s been no indication that Shapiro is investigating DEP’s role in regulating oil and gas companies.

Chris Carusone, a former chief deputy attorney general in Pennsylvania, says he wouldn’t bet on that happening.

“I can’t imagine a scenario where the attorney general’s office could investigate the DEP for failing to do its job,” Carusone said.

He says that typically, environmental crimes are reserved for individuals or companies — not government agencies.

“You could have a scenario where a state employee is charged with conspiring with a business entity or other individuals outside of the agency to violate the law,” Carusone said.

Uhlmann, the former Department of Justice lawyer, says prosecutors can only enforce laws already on the books. Criminal investigations, he said, are no substitute for regulation of industry by legislatures and state agencies.

“You can’t go in through the back door and sort of regulate through litigation conduct that you haven’t regulated at the front end,” Uhlmann said.

Most agree on one possible outcome of the investigations: Prosecutors could go through all this and decide they don’t have enough evidence to bring charges. Grand juries in Pennsylvania can last up to 24 months. When they’re done, they can release their findings in a report.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WESA, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth’s energy economy.

This article was originally published by The Allegheny Front. The Allegheny Front is produced in Pittsburgh and reports on the environment. More at

Energy Wars

Kentucky Project’s Demise Linked to International Fallout From Journalist’s Murder



An image from an EnerBlu promotional video. Courtesy of EnerBlu.

When battery manufacturer EnerBlu announced it would suspend plans for a new factory in Pikeville, Kentucky, the company used an intriguing phrase. “Unexpected geopolitical factors,” the company said, had soured the deal.  

According to a former executive at the company, those factors tied the rural eastern Kentucky development project to one of the world’s largest companies, the Saudi Arabian royal family and the international uproar resulting from the murder of a prominent journalist. 

Since it announced in 2017 its plan to build a $372 million manufacturing plant and bring as many as 875 jobs to the struggling region, EnerBlu was hailed as a savior for Pike County and eastern Kentucky. Gov. Matt Bevin called the project “truly transformative.”

The project quickly encountered challenges with land quality on the reclaimed surface mine site where it planned to construct a facility, but former EnerBlu CEO Daniel Elliott said he remained committed to building in the region. “We would have been able to work through those issues,” he said in an interview with the Ohio Valley ReSource.

In the end, though, land quality was not the final straw. Instead, a cascade of events beginning a continent away appears to have doomed the project. 

“Geopolitical Factors” 

Daniel J. Elliott began working in renewable energy in 1991, when he joined Ford Motor Company’s electric vehicle program. At another electric vehicle startup, Phoenix Motorcars, Elliott raised millions to support not just the cars themselves, but the technology infrastructure needed to support widespread use of renewable energy in transportation. 

Elliott co-founded EnerBlu in 2015 and stepped down from his role as CEO as the company announced the suspension of its Kentucky plans on Feb. 5. The abruptness of events left Elliott feeling betrayed, he said, although he said he stepped down amicably and supports the new CEO.

Former EnerBlu CEO Daniel J. Elliott speaks to Kentucky lawmakers. Photo: KET

EnerBlu representatives said  that a primary potential investor in the Pikeville project had  withdrawn, leading the company to suspend plans. The company and state development officials declined to identify that investor. But Elliott confirmed the investor was Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group

One of SoftBank’s numerous operations is an investment fund called the Vision Fund, which was started to support innovative renewable energy and advanced technology projects. 

The Vision Fund’s largest investor, contributing a reported $45 billion, was the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, a government-associated entity chaired by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudis and SoftBank planned to build in Saudi Arabia the world’s largest solar project, a 200-gigawatt array. The project would require a massive amount of energy storage capacity, Elliott said, storage capacity that EnerBlu would provide. 

EnerBlu planned to manufacture batteries that were uniquely suited to support solar arrays in hot climates.

Although no contracts with SoftBank had been signed, EnerBlu accepted from Kentucky a reported $30 million in tax incentives (and a handle of Maker’s Mark) to relocate its headquarters to Lexington in preparation for the opening of the Pike County facility. 

But on Oct. 2, 2018, half a world away, Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and never walked out. 

Istanbul to Riyadh

A Saudi citizen, Khashoggi, 59, was at the time of his death a legal United States resident and a columnist for the Washington Post. Formerly a confidant and supporter of the Saudi royal family, Khashoggi had entered self-imposed exile when his critique of the Crown Prince made him a target. Khashoggi was visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get paperwork he needed to for his upcoming marriage to a Turkish citizen.

Journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Project on Middle East Democracy panel in March, 2018. Photo: April Brady, Project on Middle East Democracy

Bin Salman denied his country was involved in the journalist’s disappearance, but citing mounting evidence, U.S. intelligence officials became convinced that Saudi operatives, likely at the behest of the Crown Prince himself, had executed a grim murder within the consulate’s walls. 

The international community condemned the act. Suddenly partnering with Saudi Arabia took on a darker tone. 

Business leaders faced a decision point when the Saudi government hosted a Future Investment Initiative conference in late October. According to Bloomberg, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son skipped the investment summit and the Saudis withdrew their substantial contribution to the bank’s investment fund. 

There would be no massive solar development in Saudi Arabia, and no need for EnerBlu’s batteries to support it. 

Riyadh to New Delhi

According to Elliott, SoftBank tried to continue plans for another large solar array near the company’s offices in New Delhi, India. But that country’s bureaucracy slowed the project to an eventual halt, he said.

“I asked senior SoftBank people, face to face, if [the Khashoggi murder] was going to affect our project, and they said no,” Elliott said. “I think they were trying to make it work, but somewhere along the line, between October and their pulling out, they knew and they didn’t tell us.”

EnerBlu spokesperson Xavier Guerin said there had been no binding agreements between EnerBlu and potential investors, but Elliott said SoftBank pulled funding on Jan. 14, days before final contracts were to have been signed on Jan. 20. 

SoftBank did not respond to a request for comment.

SoftBank’s withdrawal caused EnerBlu “significant financial hardship,” Elliott said, and initiated withdrawals from EnerBlu’s other investors whose commitments depended on SoftBank acting as the primary contributor. 

Those included a New York-based private equity fund and a Qatar-based investment fund, both Elliott and Guerin said. 

Ashok Leyland, an Indian automobile company, and U.S. electricity utilities including American Electric Power were also interested in purchasing EnerBlu’s technology, Elliott said. 

Guerin declined to confirm SoftBank’s involvement, but said the “prominent investor” pulled out because of “a mix of very large business opportunities that fell through” at the same time the political environment for renewable energy shifted in “some emerging economy countries.”

New Delhi to Pikeville 

EnerBlu’s decision to suspend comes as a major blow to Pike County, which has lost thousands of coal jobs. 

Pikeville City Manager Philip Elswick said the city was notified on Jan. 30 that there was a possibility that plans for EnerBlu’s development would be suspended. Elswick told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he regretted the loss to the county. 

Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development spokesperson Jack Mazurak said, “We’re obviously very disappointed with this setback for EnerBlu. We also hope it’s a temporary setback for a Kentucky company.”

“We are extremely disappointed with this potential investor’s decision and are well aware of the hope that EnerBlu’s project has generated in Pikeville and the eastern Kentucky region,” EnerBlu’s new CEO, John Thomas, said in an interview. “As we move forward as a company to develop a viable and impactful project, we encourage other companies to discover what we found within this region of Appalachia.”

This story was originally published by the Ohio Valley ReSource.

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Energy Wars

Scientists Call for Drastic Drop in Emissions. U.S. Appears to Have Gone the Other Way.



A report by a private research company found that U.S. emissions, which amount to one-sixth of the planet’s, didn’t fall in 2018 but instead skyrocketed. The 3.4 percent jump for 2018, projected by the firm, would be second-largest surge in greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. since Bill Clinton was president.

The signals are blaring: Dramatic changes to our climate are well upon us. These changes — we know thanks to a steady drumbeat of alarming official reports over the past 12 months — could cripple the U.S. economy, threaten to make vast stretches of our coastlines uninhabitable, make basic food supplies scarce and push millions of the planet’s poorest people into cities and across borders as they flee environmental perils.

All is not yet lost, we are told, but the demands of the moment are great. The resounding consensus of scientists, economists and analysts tells us that the solution lies in an unprecedented global effort to immediately and drastically drop carbon emissions levels. That drop is possible, but it will need to happen so fast that it will demand extraordinary commitment, resolve, innovation and, yes, sacrifice. The time we’ve got to work with, according to the United Nations, is a tad more than 10 years.

And so it stings particularly badly to learn from a new report released last week by the Rhodium Group, a private research company, that U.S. emissions — which amount to one-sixth of the planet’s — didn’t drop in 2018 but instead skyrocketed. The 3.4 percent jump in CO2 for 2018, projected by the Rhodium Group, would be second-largest surge in greenhouse gas emissions from the United States since 1996, when Bill Clinton was president.

The report notes that Americans consumed significantly more electricity in 2018 than in years past, and that demand for trucking (think shipping) and jet fuel (lots more people flew) also grew substantially. More alarming are the large jumps in U.S. emissions from industry and from buildings — which the report’s authors note are largely “ignored in clean energy and climate policymaking.” Heating and cooking-related emissions from old, often-inefficient buildings jumped 10 percent, in part due to a growing population and despite a warmer-than-average winter. As manufacturing was buoyed by the strong economy, the emissions the sector produced jumped by nearly 6 percent. The Rhodium Group forecasts those emissions will continue to grow.

Until now, it had seemed we were making modest, if insufficient, progress, largely, many experts declared, as coal-fired power plants were phased out and replaced with natural gas, which burns cleaner out of the smokestack. For two decades, U.S. emissions had been steadily dropping, chipping off more than 1 percent annually in most years since peaking in 2007. But the pace of the decline had been slowing and now threatens to put emissions reduction goals set by the Paris accord — to cut emissions to at least 26 percent less than 2005 levels by 2025 — out of reach.

There are plenty of reasons the Rhodium Group report’s conclusions aren’t particularly surprising. The rate of growth it describes dovetails with what the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted late last year: a roughly 3 percent rise in CO2 from U.S. sources. As far back as 2015, a flurry of academic research raised questions about whether the drop in U.S. emissions was indeed due to successful efforts to curb them or instead reflected the 2008-09 recession. At least one prominent study concluded that U.S. efforts to reduce emissions resulted mostly from economic decline, not other efforts. Even the increasing emissions from U.S. industries — the metric most cited from this week’s Rhodium Group research — may prove to be a red herring: Economists and climate scientists have long argued that global trade merely outsourced U.S. emissions.

In the meantime, some climate deniers — including some in the Trump administration — have seized on earlier reports of dropping emissions to argue that aggressive U.S. emissions controls aren’t necessary. “The economy is booming, energy production is surging, and we are reducing greenhouse gas emissions from major industrial sources,” acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler wrote last October. “Federal regulations are not necessary to drive CO2 reductions.” That thinking was offered as partial justification for everything from the reversal of the Clean Power Plan to phase out coal-generated electricity to the relaxation of fuel economy standards for cars.

Last week’s emissions forecast is a reminder that, as John McArthur, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution recently wrote, “Every new unit of economic gain is still cranking out a corresponding unit of environmental pain.” That may be unlikely to change soon, and the “urgent” challenge for 2019, he writes, is to find palatable approaches to drastic emissions reductions that still allow for the kind of sustained economic growth the nation has been enjoying. Until or unless the economy can be decoupled from the emissions associated with driving it, the fastest way to curb CO2 is to produce — and buy and consume — less.

Correction, Jan. 11, 2019: This story originally misstated the jump in emissions in the industrial sector. The actual year-over-year increase in industrial emissions was 5.7 percent, not more than 300 percent (which refers to the increase in the rate of change for the sector).

This article was originally published by ProPublica.

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Energy Wars

Kentucky Coal Mine Belonging to W.Va. Governor Causes Flood Damage, Again



The October flood damage the road near the Thacker house. Photo: Sydney Boles/Ohio Valley ReSource

The rain started around 10:30 p.m. By midnight, the creek in front of Elvis and Laura Thackers’ house had swelled to a mighty flood, uprooting trees, moving boulders and surging right up to the couple’s front steps. The Thackers decided to abandon their home. But when they got into their Jeep, they found the flood had washed the road away, leaving them trapped.

“Water was everywhere,” Laura Thacker remembered. “I said, ‘You don’t know how big it’s going to get.’”

The couple lay awake most of that night, afraid their whole house would be destroyed. That was October 4th, but it’s not the first time the Thackers have faced a situation like this.

Debris left by flood waters on the Thackers’ property. Photo: Sydney Boles/Ohio Valley ReSource

The Thackers live about a quarter-mile downhill from Bevins Branch, a surface mine formerly owned by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and now operated by his children. Justice ran for office on his experience as a coal businessman but has faced criticism for unpaid taxesfailure to pay suppliers, and poorly implementing mine safety requirements.

The Thackers were relieved to find their dog, which they feared had been swept away. Photo: Sydney Boles/Ohio Valley ReSource

Despite a history of reclamation violations and complaints by residents, Bevins Branch remains the subject of a years-long dispute between the Justice family and regulatory agencies. Originally scheduled to be completely reclaimed by 2015, Bevins Branch remains unfinished. And according to Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet, households downhill from the mine site have experienced multiple flooding incidents in the past two years in which the state’s inspectors found the Justice family companies were at fault.

Delayed Again

In the summer of 2014, the Energy and Environment Cabinet began negotiations with the Justice companies to resolve hundreds of outstanding reclamation violations and civil penalties at the companies’ numerous mines in Kentucky. Those negotiations led to an agreed order between the two parties, in which the Justice companies said they would resolve all outstanding issues by Sept. 1, 2015.

By that date, lawyers for the Justice companies were asking for an extension for projects including Bevins Branch. Lawyers for the Justice companies said, “In the fifteen months since the entry of the Agreed Order, the Defendants have performed and completed more reclamation and remedial work than any other mining company in Kentucky. … Amazing work by the Defendants in an economic environment which saw numerous publicly traded mining companies file bankruptcy and go out of business.”

Credit: Alexandra Kanik/Ohio Valley ReSource

A new completion date was set for March 1, 2016.

In a report produced for that deadline, state officials said they had “not observed any measurable progress on highwall reclamation” at Bevins Branch.

Highwall is an industry term for exposed cliffs that result from surface mining, which can put the environment and public safety at risk. Mine operators are responsible for abating highwall and returning the landscape to its approximate original contours.

In the same 2016 report, the state criticized the Justice companies’ analysis of their progress, saying, “It is apparent that the Defendants have essentially completed the easiest reclamation work first, with disregard for the priorities given by the Cabinet.”

On June 3, 2016, a heavy rainfall caused a diversion ditch to flood, sending torrents of water and debris rushing towards the Thackers’ house. That flood caused an estimated $148,000 in damage to the Thackers’ property alone.

More than two years later, Bevins Branch remains an active point of contention between the Justice companies and the state.

Denying Responsibility

The Energy and Environment Cabinet issued two violations in response to the October flood. Those violations required the Justice companies to complete on- and off-site cleanup work or risk a daily fine of $1,500. According to cabinet spokesperson John Mura, the company had begun work onsite, but had not helped restore damage downstream.

“We are anxious for the company to complete its work,” Mura said.

Richard Getty, a lawyer for the Justice companies, disputed the state’s finding that Bevins Branch had anything to do with the flooding downhill.

“The recent four-plus-inch rain that occurred in eastern Kentucky, including Bevins Branch, resulted in severe flooding in eastern Kentucky,” Getty said. “If there are problems that are our fault, we will correct them. If there are problems because of the heavy rain and an act of God that’s beyond our control, that’s not our responsibility.”

The term “act of God” carries particular weight in Appalachia, where in 1972 a Logan County, West Virginia, coal-waste dam on Buffalo Creek collapsed, killing 125 people and leaving thousands homeless. Inspectors found Pittston Coal Company, which owned the site, responsible for the disaster. But in legal filings, the coal company called the incident an “act of God” for which they could not be held responsible.

This state inspection image shows a failure of a water diversion ditch on the Bevins Branch mine. Photo: Kentucky EEC inspection documents

Getty added that the Justice family companies purchased Bevins Branch out of bankruptcy and inherited 504 violations from the previous owners. At the time of purchase, Getty said, there had been 40,000 feet of unreclaimed highwall at Bevins Branch. “Today, because of our ongoing efforts to clean these things up over the last several years, there is less than 2,000 remaining feet. I think it’s actually about 1,600 feet,” he said.

Billy Shelton, another Justice attorney, added that the Justice companies had challenged the state for what Shelton believed to be a wrongly issued citation. This comes after a 2017 lawsuit against Kentucky regulators for attempting to collect fines that the Justice companies argued were an overstep by the government into corporate affairs.

The daily penalty of $1,500 is a drop in the bucket compared to the $2.9 million the state says the Justice companies owe in reclamation penalties. Getty added that the Justice companies don’t believe they’re responsible for that amount.

The Justice companies blamed the October flood on an an “extraordinary” rain event. But state inspection records place the blame squarely on the poor reclamation of the mine land.

“Mining activities have adversely impacted the hydrologic balance,” an inspector wrote. By allowing diversion ditches to fill up with sediment and debris, the inspector concluded, the mining company caused an “uncontrolled discharge” of water runoff.

Environmental Impacts

The process of surface mining alters the contours of mountains, disturbs ecosystems and can increase the likelihood of landslides. Kentucky law requires mine operators to restore mountains to their original contour and reseed the land with native plants after mining is complete.

Dustin White, an activist with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, which opposes mountaintop removal mining, said reclamation rarely goes according to plan. White quoted the Kentucky author and historian Harry M. Caudill, who famously referred to surface mine reclamation as “putting lipstick on a corpse.”

“What we typically find is, most of the topsoil is already destroyed and buried in valley fills, leaving only rocks and clay and dirt on the mine site,” White said.

Court documents show that Kentucky Fuel, the Justice-family entity that operates Bevins Branch, failed to do due diligence in preventing erosion. According to the 2014 agreed order, Kentucky Fuel “exceeded time limits specified in the approved permit application to complete Backfilling and Grading to approximate original contour.”

More recent inspection reports show that similar issues persist.

Getty, the attorney for the Justice companies, says his client has made significant progress in addressing violations that had been inherited from the site’s previous owners. “I believe the Justice companies should be applauded for all of this continuous efforts,” Getty said.

What’s Next

Betty Short is 81 years old. She lives alone in a brown house not far from the Thackers, across the road from the mouth of the hollow. In the 2016 flood, thick mud covered every inch of her property. Short slipped when she left the house in the morning, breaking her collarbone. Short said she got a lawyer, but had seen no money for her injury.

This time, Short was unharmed, and she didn’t think her house had sustained damage. Already she was making the best of the situation. “At least this time I know to stay out of the mud,” she laughed.

Elvis Thacker holds material swept down from the neighboring mine. Photo: Sydney Boles/Ohio Valley ReSource

Still, Short was grateful that neighbors came to check on her the morning after the flood. “You’re really afraid to lay down and go to sleep at night,” she said. “It’s like a nightmare. You never know what’s going to happen next.”

Elvis Thacker said he worried about what might happen, too. He and Laura Thacker had even considering moving so they no longer feel afraid when it rains.

The federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement on October 13 issued a violation of its own against Kentucky Fuel: an imminent harm cessation order. OSMRE spokesperson Chris Holmes said that since the cessation order was issued, Kentucky Fuel had moved equipment to Bevins Branch and begun repairing the diversion ditch.

Kentucky Fuel is now accruing $1,500 in state fines every day that it does not complete the required reclamation work. If the work remains incomplete after November fifth, state officials will likely take the company to court — again.

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