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EPA Decision Means a Harder Look at Mountaintop Removal Mines in KY

September 16, 2009

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Nearly 80 pending permits, which would allow coal companies to fill valleys with material they remove from mountaintop mines, must be checked more closely, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agency is citing concerns about the legal status and environmental effects of valley fill operations - and Rick Handshoe shares those concerns.

A member of the group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Handshoe lives near a mountaintop removal mine and says the dust stirred up by the operation has been a major detriment to overall quality of life.

"It's on your garden food; people can't go out and sit on their porch and enjoy it. Anything in your yard is covered with dust."

Handshoe says the mining is also ruining what he calls the "sponge effect" of streams in the area, as rain and snow are collected in the streams and the water - tainted with iron, selenium and other chemicals - eventually ends up in communities downstream, such as Lexington and Frankfort.

"When we get rain, it just runs off and runs down - and it's gone. Last year, Lexington was in a water crisis. Why? You took the sponge away."

Handshoe hopes the EPA will follow through with its concerns.

"Enforcement here has been a real problem. It's like if nobody complains, then they don't care what goes on."

The Kentucky Coal Association has accused the EPA of using vague water standards to suggest that mines are violating the federal Clean Water Act. Coal companies are convinced that the affected valleys can be reclaimed and redeveloped.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - KY