The Environmental Protection Agency is weighing public comments and considering whether to cement its objections to 36 Kentucky coal mine permits. The agency heard from both the coal industry and environmental activists in a hearing in Frankfort on Tuesday.
Over the past two years, the EPA has filed specific objections to 36 permits approved by the state to mining companies that wanted to dump waste into streams in Eastern Kentucky. The EPA questions the Kentucky Division of Water's analysis and says it didn’t think the state accurately measured the potential damage the waste could cause to the environment.
The crowds at last night's public hearing were made up of elected officials and citizens who either welcomed the EPA's objections or rejected them. Pro-coal supporters were the majority, many wearing shirts that said things like “coal feeds my family” and “legalize coal.” Environmental organizations including the Sierra Club, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the Kentucky Environmental Foundation also sent contingents.
First up were elected officials: everyone from representatives from Kentucky's Washington delegation to state senators to county judge-executives. Hopkins County representative Ben Waide chided the EPA, saying it had gone too far.
“Coal is mined in Kentucky in an environmentally responsible way,” Waide said. “Everything we do here is legal, until you change the rules. And when you do that, I submit to you respectfully, you broke the law, and you need to be accountable for that.”
Of the twenty-one elected officials who spoke, Louisville Representative Joni Jenkins was the only one in favor of the EPA's opposition to the permits. She says there’s no coal mining in her district—but there are coal ash landfills and ponds.
“So why do I care about mining regulation issues?” she asked. “Because I know there is no ‘my water’ separate from your water. What’s in your water is in my water.”
Private citizens spoke, too. Joseph Evans is the president of Leeco and Blue Diamond coal—a company that is waiting on three of the 36 permits in question.
“We wish for you to understand that we are the factories of Eastern Kentucky,” he said. “Even though you cannot see us, we play a huge role in the economy. We are the very reason that Ford makes trucks in Louisville, Toyota makes cars in Georgetown and Chevrolet makes Corvettes in Bowling Green. These car makers are here because of inexpensive energy.”
Sam Avery of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth is a solar installer. He spoke about the need for investment in renewable energy in the state. Coal is cheap, he says, because costs to residents' health and the environment don't factor into the bottom line.
“We make more money with coal because clean water is free,” Avery said. “Clean air is free. Children with asthma are free. Mercury in streams and lakes is free.”
The EPA is holding another hearing on Thursday in Pikeville. Regulators are accepting written comments until June 21. Afterward, the agency will decide whether to affirm, alter or withdraw its objections to the permits.