Coal Tattoo

New EPA data shows toxic pollution from mining

We had a story in this morning’s print edition that was a bit of a spin-off from yesterday’s Coal Tattoo post about a petition seeking a federal takeover of Kentucky’s program to regulate water pollution from coal mining.

The story detailed part of the petition citing previously unreleased U.S. EPA data showing high levels of toxicity in water downstream from mining operations in Kentucky and West Virginia. A copy of the report the story is based on is posted here.

Some readers may recall that U.S. EPA had recently backed off announcing a plan that would have required more of this type of special toxicity testing by mining operators across the region.

Kentucky state officials declined to comment when I contacted them yesterday, but my friend Jim Bruggers at the Courier-Journal in Louisville  had a story on this EPA takeover petition today, that included some comments from them:

State officials on Monday said they had not seen the petition, nor had they seen the analysis of the EPA water sampling. But they said they are moving to try to meet new EPA demands to reduce water pollution from surface mining.

But R. Bruce Scott, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection, also acknowledged “severe funding concerns” that have left his agency struggling to meet its obligations. Division of Water, which oversees the pollution discharge program, has lost more than 50 positions in recent years, dropping from more than 300 to about 250, he said.

And, Jim included this in his story:

It’s unlikely EPA would take over the program. The agency has never revoked a state’s delegated authority under the Clean Water Act.

Louisville environmental attorney Tom FitzGerald, who was not involved in filing the petition, said EPA would be more likely to try to work with Kentucky to improve any shortcomings, including the funding problem.

“These folks are trying to do their jobs,” he said. “They just don’t have the resources.”