Thursday, January 07, 2010

New Ky., W.Va. mine rules better protect streams; Ky. lawmaker says they're like 'stream saver' bill

In November we reported about major changes to the Kentucky strip mining regulations hinted at by panelists at a University of Kentucky forum on coal in the state. Now the state Environment and Energy Cabinet has released those new regulations. The new guidelines will require coal companies to put more excess rock and dirt back on mined area instead over streams in nearby hollows, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"This is probably the single most important change in mining practices in many years," Tom FitzGerald, executive director of the Kentucky Resources Council, told Estep. A news release also explained the Department of Natural Resources would hire three additional people to perform the enhanced review of surface-mining permit applications the new regulations will require. A representative for TECO Coal, a major producer, told Estep the new guidelines would mean added costs for the coal industry, but the industry did help work out the changes and supports them. (Read more) For more details from FitzGerald, click here.

In West Virginia, regulators are going to "stop processing surface mining permits that propose to dump waste rock and dirt into streams while they develop new guidelines that force coal operators to reduce water quality impacts downstream from valley fills," Ken Ward Jr. reports for The Charleston Gazette. Randy Huffman, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, told Ward his goal is to stop wasting DEP staff time on permits that change dramatically after they are re-examined by the Environmental Protection Agency, and he feels that the state must push coal companies to further reduce environmental damage. (Read more)

Meanwhile, a group of scientific researchers called for a ban on mountaintop-removal strip mining, citing the damage done to streams when rainwater "trickles through the rubble and picks up pollutants off rocks that came from deep underground," David Farenthold of The Washington Post writes. "The water emerges, they said, imbued with pollutants such as metals and chemicals called sulfates, which can be toxic to the insects and fish in small Appalachian streams." (Read more) The scientists say "current mitigation strategies" have been inadequate; their analysis could not take into account the effect of the new rules, which remains to be seen. To read their heavily footnoted article, click here. UPDATE, Jan. 12: The Kentucky House sponsor of a "stream saver" bill mountaintop mining says the new rules achieve his goal, Mike Wynn of The Winchester Sun reports.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Knight gives FOI Coalition $2 million to help fund increasingly scarce legal battles for records

Battles for freedom of information often stop for lack of financial ammunition. Now help may be available, thanks to a three-year, $2 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

The grant will create the Knight FOI Fund, which "will fund up-front costs such as court costs, filing fees, depositions and initial consultation fees, if attorneys are willing to take cases that otherwise would go unfiled," NFOIC announced. The grant application was prompted by an NFOIC survey that found almost 80 percent of its members lawsuits to open public records in their states had become less numerous, and 60 percent said it had dropped dramatically. And 85 percent predicted that FOI litigation would drop dramatically over the next three years. NFOIC blamed "the economic crisis and the evolution of the news media," and cited several specific examples in its release.