Thursday, April 25, 2013

Amid confusion and possible conflicts of interest, Ky. lawmakers OK selenium-in-water rule for coal

The Kentucky Cabinet for Energy and Environment may have confused lawmakers into passing a proposed regulation about the amount of selenium that can be discharged into streams by mining operations. And in passing the proposal, legislators ignored a possible conflict of interest from various organizations who worked within the system to push the bill, Ronnie Ellis reports for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., which owns five daily and six weekly newspapers in Kentucky, almost all of them near the Eastern Kentucky Coalfield.

"Selenium is a chemical found in mineral ores and in trace amounts in the cells of all animals — but it is toxic in larger amounts," Ellis explains. "It is exposed during excavation or explosions of rock and ore, including surface mining operations and the mining practice known as mountaintop removal."

Rep. Tommy Turner of Somerset, whose district lies partly in the coalfield, asked that a the legislative subcommittee that reviews regulations have more time to study the effects of selenium. That request was denied by the cabinet, and Turner "suggested the cabinet deliberately confused the committee and backed lawmakers into a corner where they had to choose between an acute selenium standard some felt was unacceptably high — or no acute standard at all," Ellis writes in one of two stories this week on the subject. Still, Turner voted in favor of the amendment, which easily passed. The regulation still has to be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

In addition to the hurried vote, there was some strange relationships among people pushing the bill. "David Nicholas, the legislative staffer assigned to the Administrative Regulations Review Subcommittee, is the father-in-law of Bruce Scott, the cabinet’s commissioner of environmental Protection, who urged approval of the regulation," Ellis writes. Also, Jim Booth, chairman of Booth Energy, which manages major coal operations in three states including Kentucky, is chairman of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which testified on behalf of the amendment. Lawmakers didn't seem concerned about possible conflicts of interest, writes Ellis in his second story of the week on the topic. UPDATE: He takes off the gloves in this column.

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