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EPA Changes to Kentucky Coal Mine Permit Protect Water Quality and the Environment

Release Date: 07/23/2010
Contact Information: Dawn Harris-Young, (404) 562-8421, harris-young.dawn@epa.gov

(ATLANTA – July 23, 2010) - Today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a Clean Water Act (CWA) permit to Czar Coal Corporation for the Scaffold Lick Branch Coarse Refuse Storage Site project in eastern Kentucky.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Czar Coal Corporation resulted in significant protections against environmental impacts that are consistent with the Clean Water Act (CWA) and recent EPA regulations and policy. These changes are expected to reduce existing water quality problems associated with previous coal mining in the watershed, improve restoration of the site during construction, and enhance mitigation to offset unavoidable mining impacts. The permit includes new water quality monitoring to assess stream health during and following mining activities at the site. These steps are consistent with the agencies’ Clean Water Act regulations and recent mining policy issued by EPA in April 2010.

Key changes and special permit conditions sought by EPA to protect water quality include:

    Restoring areas affected by previous mining that are a significant source of pollution in Martin County’s Middle Fork Rockcastle Creek. Middle Fork Rockcastle Creek is listed on the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s 303(d) list for aquatic life use impairment caused by sediment and siltation, sulfates, and total dissolved solids from coal mining sources.
    Requiring the use and reporting of BMPs to prevent further degradation of water quality during construction;
    Monitoring to assess construction BMP effectiveness, with a threshold to trigger an adaptive management plan using a watershed approach to address historic impacts;
    Requiring chronic Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET) testing to complement monitoring required under the Kentucky Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit; and
    Mitigating stream and wetland impacts through the payment of an in-lieu fee to the Kentucky Stream and Wetland Mitigation Fund.

Appalachian coal mining has buried an estimated 2,000 miles of streams in states including Kentucky. Scientific studies have increasingly identified significant water quality problems below these surface coal mining operations that are expected to contaminate surface waters for hundreds of years. Data from coalfield communities also indicate that coal mining is responsible for contaminating water supplies, causing fish kills, and contributing to significant public health problems. EPA has committed to use its Clean Water Act regulatory authorities to improve protection for the public by reducing environmental and water quality impacts associated with coal mining. Approval of this permit demonstrates once again that the health, waters and environment of coalfield communities can be protected while also preserving the jobs and economic benefits. EPA will continue to coordinate with the mining community, the public, and other state and federal partners in the review of proposed surface coal mines in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.