Kentucky Senate bashes EPA on mine regulations

February 17, 2011-By Jim Bruggers in the Louisville Courier Journal.

FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, told both committees that he understood lawmakers’ frustration with the EPA. But he noted widespread pollution in eastern Kentucky and said EPA was doing its job. He told the House committee that only the federal government can define interstate commerce, and that even if mined coal never leaves the state, the pollution from it does.—

The Kentucky Senate could vote as early as Friday to make Kentucky a “sanctuary state” from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s reach on coal mining.

It was one of two actions taken Thursday by committees in the General Assembly intended to blunt the enforcement powers of the EPA over the coal industry.

Mountain tops are removed and everything that is not coal is dumped over cliffs, obliterating headwater streams in much of Appalachia. USEPA is supposed to regulate such practices under the Clean Water Act but now Kentucky law makers claim they can be exempt form federal law and should be able to destroy natural streams and drinking water for people if they so choose. Just last year, an Indiana IDEM official made a similar claim to EPA Region 5 regarding a Peabody mine near Carlisle, IN. The IDEM official who made the claim was a former Peabody official. Photo by John Blair

Senate Joint Resolution 99 defying the EPA passed the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee 9-0 on Thursday, and the chairman of the committee and resolution’s sponsor, Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said he would press for quick passage in the Senate.

Smith said the EPA was enforcing “scientifically unsubstantiated standards” for water quality, threatening jobs, the state’s relatively low electricity rates and “one of the cornerstones of the state’s economy.”

Meanwhile, the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee Thursday also unanimously passed a bill that seeks to exempt coal mines that sell coal for use in Kentucky from the Clean Water Act.

The bill’s sponsor, committee chairman Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence, said if the coal is mined and burned in Kentucky, it should not be considered part of “interstate commerce,” and subject to federal oversight.

The two votes to prop up the coal industry stood in sharp contrast to a rally outside the Capitol in Monday, when hundreds of demonstrators called on lawmakers to pass a so-called “stream-saver bill” that would end the practice of dumping waste rock from surface mining in eastern Kentucky waterways. Versions of that bill have been tied up in Gooch’s committee for several years.

But inside the Capitol on Thursday, lawmakers fumed about the EPA, some citing “state’s rights.” They were encouraged by David A. Gooch, who described himself as a distant cousin of Jim Gooch, and who runs the Pikeville-based trade group, Coal Operators and Associates. (MORE)

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