Pan Appalachian Defender

Thursday, October 05, 2006

70% of Kentucky Mine Permit Applications For 2005 Receive Stream Buffer Zone Waivers

Kentucky officials processed more than 450 mining permits in 2005 involving the disturbance of more than 142,300 acres of land, a KFTC review of the permits showed.
These permits - which included various types of surface mines, the surface disturbance of underground mine, haul roads, tipples, processing plants and other coal facilities - collectively received 321 waivers of the stream buffer zone law. These waivers involved 543 different streams.
Twenty-five of the permits, involving 22,147 acres, were for “mountaintop” mining. However, hundreds more permits were for area, contour, steep slope, surface, surface-contour and several other classifications of mining that also involve massive disturbance of the earth.
KFTC member John Wilborn of Louisville researched and compiled the data, because the state does not.
“I wrote an open records request [to the Department of Surface Mining] asking for how many mountaintop removal permits had been granted, and how many stream waivers of the 100-foot buffer zone have been granted,” Wilborn said. “I got a response promptly. The department told me they did not maintain those records but that the files were available.”
Wilborn spent several days reviewing all the mining permits that had been processed and granted in 2005. Some of these were amendments to existing permits, so some of the acreage figures cited include land permitted in a previous year.
KFTC is analyzing the data and following up with additional research to help clarify some of the information found. KFTC’s Land Reform Committee will consider how best to use the data. A public report will be issued in the near future.
However, the data does suggest a routine disregard for laws meant to protect coalfield communities and the environment.
Wilborn took particular note of the stream buffer zone waivers granted.
What shocks me is that we have these flowing streams that are being buried and no one seems to be concerned about it except those locally who rely on it for a water supply, he said.
Of the 25 mountaintop removal permits, 22 received a waiver from a requirement that the land be returned to its approximate original contour. Such a waiver is supposed to be granted only if the land is going to be reclaimed for a higher and better use.
Eleven of the waivers were for a fish and wildlife post-mining land use. Under federal law a waiver is not allowed for fish and wildlife.
It appears that some of them have been granted against existing regulations, Wilborn observed.
As we¹ve seen in recent stories [about enforcement of mining laws and the non-collection of fines], when we talk about enforcement, it is sorely lacking, he added. This data is a real strong indication of a failure to enforce.
Wilborn said he was surprised at first the state did not compile data on mining operations and their impacts.
But once I got in and saw the operation I thought, no, no surprise. Basically they are in the business of evaluating the permit request, so they act and that¹s the end of the story for them.
KFTC plans to continue to monitor permit applications. To assist with this effort, contact
(reprinted with permission from KFTC/Balancing the Scales)


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