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Lawmakers vote to raise mine permit fees




FRANKFORT

In a peculiar move, coal companies were successful this week in pushing a bill through the Kentucky legislature that will increase the fees they pay to apply for mining permits.

Gov. Steve Besehar said he intends to sign the legislation that will cost coal companies an additional $800,000 a year.

The money would be used to help pay the operational costs of the Kentucky Division of Mine Permits, including the hiring of staffers to speed up the permitting process. The Beshear administration and coalfi eld lawmakers joined with the coal industry to pass the measure that they said would allow new coal mines to create jobs for unemployed Kentuckians.

The legislation takes effect as soon as the governor signs it.

“I am pleased that the industry, the administration and the General Assembly were able to work together to increase the number of coal mining permit applications that can be reviewed during these tight budgetary times,” Beshear said.

Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett hailed the legislation as “a clear public-private partnership to make certain the state has the funds it needs to accomplish its mission.”

The environmental group Kentucky Resources Council had warned that expediting the permit process would result in the opening of more mines, which could overwhelm the state inspectors responsible for enforcing safety laws and regulations.

The Kentucky Department of Natural Resources already is collecting the higher fees under a regulation implemented by the Beshear administration last year. That regulation would have expired next month, drying up the funding source for the Division of Mine Permits, said state Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence.

Under current law, coal companies pay a fee of $375 for the applications. The legislation would set new fees ranging from $750 to $2,500 for each application, depending on whether the companies are looking to expand a mining operation or open a new one.

With the additional revenue, the Division of Mine Permits will add staffers whose only responsibility will be to review permit applications to eliminate a backlog. Overall, the number of employees in the agency would rise from 96 to 106.

They are expected to process more than 500 applications for mine permits each year.

Coalfield lawmakers painted the legislation as a jobs bill. Gooch said a backlog of permit applications is delaying the opening and mines at a time when the economic recession has pushed the state’s jobless rate into double-digits.

“In this bad economy, mining is one of the few bright spots,” Gooch said. “We have people who need jobs badly, and we needed to do this so that they can go to work.”


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