EPA issues long-awaited ruling on surface mining guidelines

Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a long-anticipated guidance ruling that will be used to review surface mining projects under the Clean Water Act – including updating pollution limits for waterways under the Clean Water Act. EPA issued interim guidance in April, 2010 clarifying the existing pollution limits for waterways under the Clean Water Act.

This EPA ruling will have a significant impact on mining operations in Kentucky, particularly those located in Eastern Kentucky. Industry officials and some economists consider the guidance rules a way to curtail, or in some cases, shut down surface mining in Central Appalachia which would affect thousands of jobs in Eastern Kentucky. The EPA has already failed to act on or denied dozens of permits within the last year for potential projects in Eastern Kentucky under the interim guidance.

Recently, the Kentucky Chamber voiced strong support for HR 2018 – the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011. The measure, which passed the House last week, would clarify the power EPA has in overseeing individual states’ water quality programs under the Clean Water Act. The Chamber has also expressed its opinion to federal officials that greater congressional oversight and approval should take place when government agencies, such as the EPA, propose rulings that could have significant economic impact.

In October 2010, the state of Kentucky and the Kentucky Coal Association filed a lawsuit against the EPA challenging the agency’s authority to issue guidelines requiring coal mines operating within certain eco-regions to measure the conductivity of water in nearby waterways. The lawsuit is pending in federal court in Washington.

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