Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear announced today that he has directed the Energy and Environment Cabinet to join with the Kentucky Coal Association (KCA) in a lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). KCA filed the federal lawsuit today in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky, Pikeville Division against the EPA challenging the federal agency's arbitrary rules, guidance and oversight regarding coal mining permits under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
"Kentucky can and does mine coal while at the same time protecting Kentucky's environment," said Gov. Beshear. "However, the arbitrary and unreasonable decisions being made by the EPA threaten to end the responsible mining of coal and eliminate the jobs of an estimated 18,000 Kentucky miners who depend on mining for their livelihood."
The legal action centers on interim guidance issued earlier this year by the EPA regarding Kentucky's issuance of CWA 402 Permits for coal mining operations, commonly referred to as the Kentucky Pollution Discharge Elimination System (KPDES) permitting program. The EPA interim guidance, among various requirements, sets forth benchmarks for measuring the conductivity of water in streams and waterways that coal mining operations within certain eco-regions of Appalachia must achieve.
In March 2010, after multiple discussions with EPA regarding several proposed draft CWA 402 permits, EPA allowed the issuance of those revised draft permits by the Kentucky Division of Water. Subsequently, EPA refused to apply the same standards to 11 similarly proposed CWA 402 permits, instead objecting to their issuance.
EPA is not allowing formal legal challenges to those specific permit objections until EPA itself re-writes and issues the permit to its satisfaction. For individual CWA 402 permits where the state is unable to resolve the EPA objection in the 90-day period allowed, EPA will become the permitting and enforcement authority for those mining operations for the life of that permitting action. EPA is under no timeframe to take any final action in response to their objection letter.
"Kentucky has tried time and time again to work with the EPA to strike a reasonable balance on mining and environmental issues. However, the EPA's recent arbitrary and unreasonable actions could well have a devastating impact to Kentucky's economy," said Gov. Beshear. "As Governor, I am going to do everything in my power to keep that from happening."
"I am pleased Governor Beshear is joining with us in taking this action," said Kentucky Coal Association Executive Director Bill Bissett. "The Kentucky coal industry believes in having a level playing field from which we can do business. However, the recent actions by the federal EPA forced us to take this action in order to make certain coal companies and coal miners can continue working to provide energy resources to keep the lights on in Kentucky homes and businesses."