Filed by Rep. Don Pasley, D - Winchester, the bill seeks to block any dumping of spoil material from coal mines into waters inside Kentucky. It was called the stream saver bill in the 2008 session of the General Assembly when it was attached to a bill regarding camel feed and testimony was heard before the Appropriation and Revenue Committee. The bill failed to exit the committee for a full vote in the House of Representatives, and two days later several hundred coal miners rallied on the Capitol steps in support of the coal industry. Previous versions of the bill have been filed, but like last year’s version never made it past a committee vote.
Pasley, who didn’t return a call seeking comment, is quoted in a press release from the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth stating that water quality is the reason behind his support of the bill.
“Sediment is the number one source of pollution in the Kentucky River where I live downstream, and that sediment comes primarily from the coal mining practice of dumping mining wastes into streams,” he was quoted as saying.
Opponents of the last session’s version of the stream saver bill, which would have also required coal companies to transport any material not returned to the mine site after completion of operations to be transported to an area that had been previously mined, would have potentially cost hundreds of local jobs and been cost prohibitive as more trucks would have to be used to transport that excess material. In turn, they argued, the cost to operate would have risen to the point that Kentucky coal wouldn’t be completive with other states.
But proponents argued that there wouldn’t be any significant impact on the price of Kentucky coal, and any increase would be outweighed by the advantages of protecting water quality and decreasing the risk of flooding. According to testimony presented to the A & R Committee earlier this year by Nathaniel Hitt, research associate at Virginia Tech, past research indicated that streams downstream from mining operations have an increased level of several different minerals, including selenium, iron and sulfate, which could prove harmful at high levels of exposure.
While in Hazard last week, Gov. Steve Beshear said that before considering a bill like the stream saver bill, consideration would first need to be given as to how it would affect companies’ ability to mine coal in Kentucky. He indicated that the bill filed in the 2008 session would have made it challenging for coal companies to continue mining had it passed.
“The bill that was up before I thought would have really made it difficult to mine coal in eastern Kentucky, and I think we’re going to have to look at those areas very carefully before we move along any of those lines,” he said.
Fitz Steele, who was elected to the state House in November and will be sworn in to begin serving his first term next month, said he doesn’t see himself supporting the bill.
“If it hurts coal miners, our people, our jobs - you know I’m not for it,” he said.
Steele, who will represent Perry and a portion of Harlan County, said he hasn’t seen the bill yet, but said the legislation from the 2008 session singled out coal mining, and that it would have had a negative impact on the industry, which for this region employs hundreds of people.
“That’s our Toyota, our Ford, our UPS,” he said, referring to the industry and the people it employs.
The 2009 session of the General Assembly is set to begin on Tuesday, January 6.