ATLANTA (Legal Newsline) - The Environmental Protection Agency Region 4 announced April 16 that it will hold three public hearings in June regarding permits for coal mining discharges in Kentucky.
The hearings are in response to requests from the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection's Division of Water.
The hearings will provide the EPA an opportunity to hear from stakeholders and the public about what actions to take on 36 draft individual National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits. The EPA filed a "specific objection" to each of these 36 permits because it was concerned that they would not protect water quality, the environment and human health as defined by the standards of the Clean Water Act.
Since 2009 KDOW has authorized discharges under the Clean Water Act from approximately 2,500 existing and new coal mining and processing projects. The authority for this comes mostly from an approved coal general permit.
KDOW requires individual NPDES permits for mining or processing activities that discharge pollutants into waters that are already polluted and are not meeting water quality standards. It also does the same with new or expanding mines within five miles upstream of a drinking water intake. KDOW has issued 115 such individual permits during the last three years.
For the 36 individual permits that are the subject of the hearings, EPA has been working with KDOW to collect and evaluate data on toxic metals, cyanide, phenols, specific conductance, and current biological health of the waters that receive discharges from the mines in an effort to work through the issues identified in the objections.
"Our intent is not to stop coal mining, but to ensure it proceeds in an environmentally acceptable way," EPA Region 4 Administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming said. "We are holding these hearings on our permit objections to hear from those directly impacted and are hopeful that, following the hearings, the remaining 36 permits will be developed by KDOW with appropriate site-specific controls that will allow these projects to move forward while protecting human health and water quality as required by the CWA."
According to the announcement, after careful consideration of all oral and written comments, data and the requirements of the Clean Water Act and applicable regulations, the EPA will determine whether to reaffirm, modify the terms of or withdraw each of the objections.
The EPA states that permits which are either reaffirmed with the original objection or modified by the terms of the objection, KDOW must, within 30 days, submit to EPA a revised permit.
The revisions must meet the terms of the remaining objection, or exclusive authority to issue the permit will be passed to EPA for one permit term. If the EPA withdraws its objection for a permit KDOW may proceed with the permit issuance process.