Whitesburg KY

Compliance down at Ky. strip mines, but rises in W.Va., government says

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement reported a drop in coal strip miners’ compliance with federal laws and regulations in Kentucky in the last three years. The compliance rate in the state “dropped from 87 percent of surveyed mining sites in 2007 and 2008 to 65 percent in 2010,” reporter James Bruggers of The Courier-Journal in Louisville writes.

The report identified water quality, permit administration, and backfilling and grading as the most common violations at 325 randomly selected sites, including former mines being reclaimed.

“These are not minor violations,” Joseph Blackburn, the top OSM official in Kentucky, told Bruggers. “I think there is a degree of seriousness we cannot ignore, and we aren’t.”

Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, defended the industry’s record: “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 climate.” Bissett did not specify which rules he believed were responsible, but said there had been “change in the way the rules have been interpreted.”

State officials suggested that their inspections have been more rigorous than they were under Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who left office in December 2007. “We are seeing a compliance issue because we are doing a much more rigorous job of enforcement,” Jim Dickinson, director of the Division of Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, told Bruggers. He said all inspectors have been told: “If you see a violation, you write it.”

“At the same time the state has stepped up its enforcement, state officials see mines doing less,” Bruggers writes, citing Department for Natural Resources Commissioner Carl Campbell, a former head of the strip-mine agency he now oversees.

Kentucky lies in two coalfields, the Central Appalachian and the Illinois Basin, In the other big Eastern strip-mine state, West Virginia’s OSM field office reports “that violations of the state program were observed on 24 percent of the inspections” by federal inspectors, compared to 31 percent last year. Thus, the West Virginia compliance rates rose from 69 percent to 75 percent.

Source: The Rural Blog, a publication of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

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