Enviro groups file suit against EPA over coal mine selenium

The Sierra Club and other groups on Dec. 13 took action against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over what they said was a recent decision allowing Kentucky to weaken its water quality standards for selenium runoff from coal mines.

This new standard, which tests selenium levels in fish tissue instead of in rivers and streams where mine wastewater is discharged, is similar to one the Bush Administration rejected as too weak to protect sensitive aquatic species, the groups said. The lawsuit filed Dec. 13 in federal court alleges that the standard fails to meet protections in the Clean Water Act.

“There’s simply no scientific or legal justification for this EPA to approve a standard worse than one rejected by the Bush administration,” said Alice Howell, Chair of the Cumberland Chapter of the Sierra Club. “In doing so, EPA has made a bad situation much worse. The new selenium standard endangers the health of Kentucky’s already compromised waterways while opening the door for other states to do the same.”

In mid-November, the EPA allowed Kentucky to change the way it monitors selenium pollution from surface mines, a change suggested by coal industry lobbyists, who appear to be motivated by citizen groups’ successful enforcement of the existing protections elsewhere in the region, the plaintiffs said.

In their lawsuit, the groups argue that the EPA decision was arbitrary and capricious. First, they said that EPA violated the Clean Water Act by allowing Kentucky to institute a scientifically indefensible standard that fails to protect sensitive wildlife. Second, both citizens and EPA raised concerns about the difficulty of implementing a fish tissue based standard, yet EPA approved this standard based on a vague letter from Kentucky officials about how the new standard would be enforced, they added.

This action was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.

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.