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Water Quality at Stake in New Coal-Mining Pollution Rules

PHOTO: Kentuckians are advocating for clean-water protections as the state updates its discharge regulations on coal operations, such as this coal conveyor outside Portal 31 in Benham. Photo credit: Shawn Poynter/Rural Archive and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.
PHOTO: Kentuckians are advocating for clean-water protections as the state updates its discharge regulations on coal operations, such as this coal conveyor outside Portal 31 in Benham. Photo credit: Shawn Poynter/Rural Archive and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.
June 25, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Voicing concerns about the quality of their water, some Kentuckians are telling the state's regulatory agency that it would be a huge mistake to continue allowing a general, "one size fits all" approach to monitoring pollution discharges from coal-mining operations.

Lynch resident Stanley Sturgill is among those asking the Kentucky Division of Water to require individual permits for coal mining and processing.

"All these streams, I don't care where you're at, everything's different," she said, "and to put everything under one permit, you're just gambling, any way you look at it, that it will take care of anything. It just causes trouble, any way you look at it."

With Kentucky's current "General 402 Permit" for coal mining set to expire July 31, clean-water advocates are pushing for pollution limits to be tailored to the specific types of discharges at each mine site.

The state also is getting pushback about its proposal to drop a current requirement that no general-permit discharges are allowed within five miles upstream of a public water intake. It's of particular concern to Sturgill and others who live at the base of the state's highest peak, Black Mountain in Harlan County. He said that's where a coal company wants to do surface mining in the watershed, which feeds three streams and an underground reservoir that supply drinking water for the towns of Lynch and Benham.

"We have one of the last true, pristine drinking-water facilities that is in the state of Kentucky," he said. "So, when you've got an asset like that, why in the world do you want to destroy it?"

State officials say the five-mile protection is not needed because the prohibition exists in other statutes. The new permit ultimately must be approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Those assurances aren't enough for Benham resident Carl Shoupe and others, who fear valley fill from strip-mining would pollute the water.

"All that crap is going to be pushed right down into those feeder streams," Shoupe said. "I mean, it's a no-brainer, man - our water's cooked."

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY