COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Eighteen coal facilities in Ohio are operating with expired pollution-discharge permits under an agency where allegations of coal-industry influence arose during a personnel flap last year, an Associated Press review has found.
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency records show 13 of the 18 have expired since Republican Gov. John Kasich took office in 2011, or about a quarter of the 49 issued to coal facilities.
The agreements spell out what pollutants each mining operation, coal preparation plant, storm water facility or coal waste storage area can release under state and federal clean water laws. The AP obtained data on the permits through a public records request.
Several holders of expired permits gave generously to Kasich's 2010 gubernatorial campaign, state campaign finance records show.
That included at least $35,000 from employees of Murray Energy Corp. and its subsidiaries and its political action committee, and about $22,000 from executives of Oxford Mining Co. Murray and Oxford companies hold four of the expired permits.
Rosebud Mining, another holder of an expired permit, has corporate ties to Freedom Industries, the company at the center of a January chemical spill in West Virginia.
Environmentalists contend delayed permit renewals allow mining companies to avoid modernizing cleanup technologies as required under the federal Clean Water Act.
Robert Shields, who chairs the Sierra Club's Ohio chapter, said the expired permits combined with a recently unearthed pro-drilling communications plan at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, shows the Kasich administration is putting industry interests above the health and well-being of Ohioans.
"We can't afford to be the next West Virginia or North Carolina," Shields said. "We want to stop a spill before it happens, and we want to ensure that our water is safe to drink and brush our teeth with."
Messages seeking comment were left with Rosebud and Oxford.
Ohio EPA spokesman Chris Abbruzzese said renewing permits is a complex process. Fourteen of the permits are well on their way to updated approvals, he said.
"These permits, even if they are expired, are legal and enforceable and protective, and allow the agency to go and do inspections when we feel like it's warranted," Abbruzzese said.
Internal Ohio EPA emails obtained by the AP indicate the pace of coal permitting has slowed significantly under Kasich: new individual coal permits issued dropped from five in 2011 to zero in 2013, while new general permits for coal discharge dropped from 19 in 2011 to five in 2013.
The federal EPA has the power to impose penalties on Ohio for extended delays in reissuing permits through its state grant program.
An online search finds dozens of violation notices against companies, even under expired permits. They involve a host of issues, from facility upkeep to violating limits set on certain chemical discharge.