Coal Tattoo

Kentucky gets tough on valley fill permits

In the wake of Wedneday’s announcement by WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman of a new review of standards for valley fill permits, Kentucky regulators on Thursday made their own very major announcement.

This was touched on briefly in the comments section of Coal Tattoo by former OSMRE staffer Bob Mooney and Tom Rodd. I was dealing with the big Science article on mountaintop removal and some other things yesterday, and didn’t have time to blog about it. But it’s worth Coal Tattoo readers taking a close look at. Thanks to Bob and Tom for getting the discussion of it going.

Here’s the lead from the Louisville Courier-Journal story:

Kentucky has issued tougher guidelines for surface coal mines that officials say will protect streams and lead to faster and better reclamation of hillsides and mountains.

And here’s the take on it from the Lexington Herald-Leader:

Far fewer stream areas in Eastern Kentucky would be buried by surface mining under new guidelines the state has adopted.

Under the guidelines, coal companies would put more excess rock and dirt back on the mined area rather than putting it in nearby hollows, which covers up stream areas.

The Kentucky Department of Natural Resources has a press release here and a copy of a reclamation memo here.

The press release says the new Kentucky policy will:

· Provide an objective process for achieving AOC while ensuring stability of backfill material and minimization of sediment to streams.

·  Provide an objective process for minimizing the quantity of excess spoil that can be placed in excess spoil disposal sites such as valley fills.

·  Minimize watershed impacts by ensuring compliance with environmental performance standards imposed by SMCRA.

·  Minimize impacts to aquatic and terrestrial habitats.

·  Provide an objective process for use in permit reviews, as well as field inspections during mining and reclamation phases.

· Maintain the flexibility necessary for addressing site specific mining and reclamation conditions that require discretion by the regulatory authority as intended by SMCRA and Congress.

It’s worth noting that the West Virginia DEP adopted  its own similar policy more than a decade ago, as a result of the first big citizen group lawsuit over mountaintop removal, the Bragg case.

I’m told there are some significant differences between the two policies … for one thing, Kentucky has not exempted “contour mining.” It’s also worth noting that the new Kentucky rules won praise from longtime environmental advocate Tom FitzGerald, who helped broker a deal on the changes:

This is going to dramatically change the way mining is done. This is probably the single most important change in mining practices in many years.

And, it’s important to mention that both the West Virginia and Kentucky policies were devised, at least in part, by mining engineer John Morgan. I did a story as part of my original Mining the Mountains series more than a decade ago that outlined some of Morgan’s thoughts on the ways to reduce impacts from surface coal-mining. It’s worth a read today.