Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fired official says he lost job for blocking Ky. mine permits for land without right of legal entry

The former head of Kentucky's mine-permit division said he was fired by Gov. Steve Beshear last week after he attempted to block what he felt were illegal permitting practices. Ron Mills said he refused to issue about six permits in the past year that failed to show the company's legal right to enter and disturb all the area it would mine, John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. Mills said the administration of Gov. Steve Beshear, for whom he was a campaign worker, chose instead to issue permits to companies who showed they had legal right to mine as little as two-thirds of the property to be mined.

The so-called "33 1/3 policy" is the subject of a lawsuit the Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental group, is preparing to file. KRC director Tom FitzGerald told Cheves it was unclear if Beshear had implemented the policy when he was elected, but Mills had tried to end it after being hired in 2008. After a debate with the governor's office, Natural Resources Commissioner Carl Campbell signed the permits over Mills' objections. A Beshear spokesperson said the governor doesn't involve himself with such permitting or personnel decisions. FitzGerald told Cheves, "I'm profoundly disappointed by this administration."

Most of the permits apparently involved underground mines, because they were for Oklahoma-based Alliance Resource Partners, which has no surface mines in Kentucky. Its president and CEO, Joe Craft, last month headed a $7 million donation to the University of Kentucky to build a new men's basketball team dormitory to be called Wildcat Coal Lodge. (Read more)

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