Sunday, June 22, 2014

Ky. proposes more limits on water discharges from surface mines to resolve disputes with EPA

Kentucky officials have proposed new water-protection requirements for coal mines to resolve "concerns of federal environmental authorities who have objected to dozens of new or expanded surface mines in Eastern Kentucky," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. For the first time, the state would have different standards for that region and Western Kentucky, which is in a separate coalfield and is not mountainous.

"State officials say the new rules strengthen protection for streams in the region, but environmental groups argue the provisions still don’t go far enough," Estep writes. "The coal industry has concerns about some of the regulations, but supports moving forward with them as a way to potentially break the stalemate over permits between the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.''

If EPA approves, the changes would be made to the state's general permit for most strip mines, which expired July 31. "In 2010, the EPA began objecting to permits for surface mines in the region that state officials had already approved," Estep notes. "The federal agency said there was growing scientific evidence that runoff from surface mines and valley fills in Appalachia hurts water quality and aquatic life, and that the proposed permits were not adequate to protect water quality."

Federal officials blocked permits for 40 new or expanded strip mines, “contributing significantly to the social and economic decline of the entire Eastern Kentucky coal-producing region,” Kentucky Coal Association adviser Lloyd Cress told state officials at a hearing last week. Environmentalists note the "growing evidence of a correlation between mining-related pollution and human health problems, in addition to the environmental damage," Estep writes.

The new rules would include the first limits on selenium, "require companies to apply for individual permits for any discharge with concentrations of metals that might be in excess of water-quality standards;" require coal companies to test water for conductivity, an indicator of mineral pollution, and "do trend analyses on water samples, and, if water quality declined, to review their practices for controlling pollution," Eastep reports. It would also "require electronic reporting of water-quality tests coal companies must perform, with the results available to the public."

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