"In the Game of Musical Mines, Environmental Damage Takes a Back Seat"

"Jeff Hoops built Blackjewel into the nation’s sixth largest coal company by acquiring bankrupt mines. When it declared bankruptcy, he pivoted to other ventures, leaving polluted streams and mud-shrouded roads in his wake."

"Whenever a hard rain fell on Harlan County, Kentucky, the mud, rocks and debris from the Foresters No. 25 mine pounded down the hillside into the community of Wallins Creek.

Local residents repeatedly complained about washed-out culverts and mud in their yards. Time after time, county work crews came out after a heavy rain to repair Camp Creek Road, a water line that runs alongside it and a local bridge. The strip mine’s owner, Blackjewel, fixed some problems, but when the rains came again, so did the muddy flooding.

Amber Combs, who lived down the hill from Foresters, recalled a day in August 2017 when "the water was rushing down and the yard was a muddy slush pond. It was literally like a river around my house." Combs complained to Kentucky regulators, who fined Blackjewel $1,300, which it never paid. Overall, under Blackjewel’s ownership, Foresters would run up 17 violations and more than $600,000 in unpaid fines."

Ken Ward Jr. reports for Mountain State Spotlight with Alex Mierjeski and data analysis by Scott Pham for ProPublica, April 26, 2023.

Source: ProPublica, 04/27/2023