The EPA submitted to the Kentucky Division of Water on September 28 its notice of specific objections to the permits, five of which were for facilities in Perry County, based on concerns that the mining operations could result in water discharges that would cause negative human and environmental impacts in the areas of operation. An additional 34 coal permits reviewed by the EPA during the same time period for underground mines were approved.
According to a letter written by James Giattina, director of the EPA’s Water Protection Division, those permits cited as objectionable in the EPA’s review included applications that could lead to “discharges that may cause significant water quality impacts.”
Giattina noted that the review “identified general concerns regarding the quality and detail of information contained in the permit applications,” and that there were some discrepancies of information listed in different permits. He requested that the Division of Water explain those discrepancies or require the applicants to update their permit applications.
But for some within the coal industry, continued objections to permits have a real economic impact. Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said in a statement that the EPA’s continued refusal to approve surface coal mining permits based on random and “illegal” water quality standards will cost jobs and eventually increase power rates in the state.
“While some permits were allowed to continue through the approval process, it is important to remember that these 19 objections by the EPA deny Kentuckians good paying jobs and negatively affects our ability to provide affordable electricity to our Commonwealth and the nation,” Bissett said. “While President Obama and his political appointees continue to tout the American Jobs Act, Kentuckians in the coalfields remain very concerned about their ability to have a job and provide for their families.”
For others, however, the potential impacts to humans and the region’s wildlife that surface mining represents are a major cost as well. Doug Doerrfeld is a member and past chairman of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and noted that EPA has not rejected these permits outright, but has indicated that if they were to be approved as is the mines would be allowed to discharged too much pollution into local waterways.
“My understanding is, these permits that they’ve objected to, they’re in close proximity to water intakes, or community water supplies, so it’s a direct impact from these chemicals that come from these mining operations on human health,” he explained.
Some of the chemicals Doerrfeld noted include arsenic and selenium, which are known toxins and would not only affect human health, but aquatic wildlife as well, he continued.
“There has been a wealth of science in the past 10 years that have shown that the impact of large surface mines, like the ones that are in question here with these permits, do put off these kinds of chemicals, they do enter the streams, and they are negatively impacting streams and aquatic health.”
Doerrfeld acknowledged that while coal industry supporters point out economic impacts, the truth, he said, is that because coal is a finite resource there is necessarily going to be less coal mined in the coming years. So even if these permits were being approved, the coal industry in central Appalachia will begin to decline because the coal is running out.
“The impact of what these objections are on the permits is negligible on jobs in Eastern Kentucky,” he said.