Coal compliance dropping in Kentucky

June 7, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

My friend Jim Bruggers over at the Courier-Journal in Louisville had an interesting piece over the weekend, reporting that:

The Kentucky coal industry’s compliance with U.S. surface mining regulations dropped sharply from 2008 to 2010, while the environmental impact of the violations has worsened, federal records show.

A U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement report analyzing state enforcement of the federal surface mining and reclamation law shows the industry’s compliance rate in Kentucky dropped from 87 percent of surveyed mining sites in 2007 and 2008 to 65 percent in 2010.

The story appears to be based on part of the OSMRE annual report on Kentucky’s program, available here.  That report says:

For EY 2010, OSM found that 211 of the 325 (65 percent) mine sites in Kentucky were in full compliance with all performance standard categories.

The report goes on:

On 114 of 325 sites, 295 violations were observed. The performance standards most often cited in NCs were hydrologic balance, permit administration, and backfilling and grading. OSM inspectors evaluated the seriousness of violations on random complete inspections. The data for the 395 violations shows that 66 percent of all violations did not have an off-site impact, and 34 percent extend outside the permit area. In addition, 21 percent of the violations were minor, 55 percent had a moderate degree of impact and 24 percent had a major degree of impact.

Bill Bissette with the Kentucky Coal Association spoke Tuesday night, May 18, 2010, in Charleston, W.Va., at a public hearing of the Environmental Protection Agency concerning the Spruce Mine mountaintop removal permit that is currently facing a veto by the EPA. (AP Photo/The Logan Banner, Michael Browning)

Interestingly, my old buddy Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, tried to change the subject when Bruggers asked him about all of this:

Even in the face of the rising violations, Bill Bissett, executive director of the Kentucky Coal Association, defended the industry’s record and suggested the focus should instead be on President Barack Obama’s administration and the competence of the state inspectors.

“We need to continue to work toward a goal of 100 percent compliance, but this information released by OSM needs to be reviewed in the context of a changing regulatory playing field,” Bissett said. He described an “uncertain regulatory climate,” adding that there has been a “change in the way the rules have been interpreted.”

But when pressed:

He declined, however, to specify which new surface mining agency rules were responsible for the uncertainty …

A couple readers have asked me how West Virginia rates in terms of the coal industry’s compliance trend. But if you look at the OSM Charleston field office’s most recent annual report, you see that they don’t include a similar chart or figures.

Roger Calhoun, director of the field office, told me that one reason is that his staff breaks down their “random sample” of inspections, targeting a certain number of sites for different specific issues, such as looking into citizen complaints, examining bond release issues, or judging problems with valley fills (See page 20 of the report for a complete list).

Because of this, Calhoun doesn’t feel his office’s inspections are truly a random sample and doesn’t present the same sort of data that OSM in Kentucky does.

But still, the Charleston field office report does offer this summary:

A total of 413 inspections were conducted. Two hundred six violations of the State program were observed on 99 of the 413 inspections. This shows that violations of the State program were observed on 24 percent of the inspections. This compares favorably to last year when violations were observed on 31 percent of the Federal inspections.

One Response to “Coal compliance dropping in Kentucky”

  1. rhmooney3 says:

    What really matters is the type and seriousness of the violations.

    Different inspectors will find different violations.

    Decades ago, OSM decided to stop assessing whether the violations it detected had likely existed during the prior State complete inspection to stop making such determinations on the state regulatory authorities not citing violations.

    The Charleston Field Office Director Roger Calhoun — whom I had worked with for more than a decade — is correct in saying such determinations or interpretations cannot truly be made (with the data as it is presently being collected).

    Also, since very few coal mining and reclamation operations are inspected at even the minimal frequency required by federal and state statues, the ability to detect violations is severely limited.

    (Many state and federal reclamation inspectors do very well, but there are a few whom do extremely badly — that’s not being looked at.)

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