EPA to hold hearings on targeted Kentucky coal permits

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold three public hearings in June to hear from stakeholders and the public about what actions to take on 36 draft individual National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for coal mining discharges in Kentucky.

EPA said April 16 that it filed a “specific objection” to each of these 36 permits because it was concerned that the draft permits would not protect water quality, the environment and human health consistent with the Clean Water Act (CWA).

One hearing will be held on June 5 at the Frankfurt Convention Center, and two will be held on June 7 at the Eastern Kentucky Expo Center.

Since 2009, the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection’s Division of Water (KDOW) has authorized discharges from about 2,500 existing and new coal mining and processing projects under the CWA, mostly under an approved coal general permit. KDOW requires individual NPDES permits for mining or processing activities that discharge pollutants into waters that are already polluted and are not meeting water quality standards, along with new or expanding mines within five miles upstream of a drinking water intake. In the last three years, KDOW has issued 115 of these individual permits.

For the 36 individual permits up for review at the hearings, EPA said it has been working with KDOW to collect and evaluate data on toxic metals, cyanide, phenols, specific conductance, and current biological health of the waters that receive discharges from the mines in an effort to work through the issues identified in the objections.

“Our intent is not to stop coal mining, but to ensure it proceeds in an environmentally acceptable way,” said EPA Region 4 Administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming. “We are holding these hearings on our permit objections to hear from those directly impacted and are hopeful that, following the hearings, the remaining 36 permits will be developed by KDOW with appropriate site-specific controls that will allow these projects to move forward while protecting human health and water quality as required by the CWA.”

After consideration of all oral and written comments, data and the requirements of the Clean Water Act and applicable regulations, the EPA will determine whether to reaffirm, modify the terms of or withdraw each of the objections. For permits where EPA either reaffirms the original objection or modifies the terms of the objection, KDOW must, within 30 days, submit to EPA a revised permit that meets the terms of the remaining objection, or exclusive authority to issue the permit passes to EPA for one permit term. For any permits where EPA withdraws its objection, KDOW may proceed with permit issuance.

The EPA website said these 36 contested permits include authorizations for the Ben Howard Branch surface mine of Xinergy Corp., the Raccoon Branch surface mine of Laurel Mountain Resources, the Bevins Branch surface mine of Sidney Coal and the Beech Fork plant of Blue Diamond Coal.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.