Sierra Club and Earthjustice Pursue Legal Action against Kentucky Utility after Synapse Identifies Evidence of Clean Water Act Violation

A Google Earth satellite image of LG&E's Mill Creek power plant. Red box shows discharge.

A series of images from Google Earth compiled by Synapse for the Sierra Club kicked off an investigation into a Kentucky power plant that appears to be discharging from its coal ash pond into the Ohio River on a near-continuous basis. On March 17, following a year-long documentation period, Sierra Club and Earthjustice filed a notice of intent to sue the utility for violating the Clean Water Act.

Synapse's Jeremy Fisher first noted that Google Earth satellite images capture Mill Creek power plant’s discharge site during an environmental upgrade expenditures case involving Louisville Gas & Electric (LG&E) company in 2011. The Mill Creek Generating Station is a coal-fired power plant owned by LG&E in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Fisher shared the image with counsel at Sierra Club, Synapse’s client for the expenditures case, who then asked him to compile a series of historical images from Google Earth. Dr. Fisher found that the plant appeared to be actively discharging in just about every image. 

Time-lapse photography from a camera that Sierra Club installed opposite the discharge site confirmed that the plant releases coal ash wastewater into the Ohio River on an almost daily basis, in violation of a permit that allows discharge on an “occasional” basis. The plant must meet the terms of the permit in order to comply with the federal Clean Water Act. Per the notice of intent to sue, LG&E has 60 days from the date of filing to take remedial steps or to contest the accuracy of the violation.