Friday, November 03, 2000

Mining officials consider moratorium pleas

7 applications pending to expand or build coal-slurry impoundments in Kentucky

The Associated Press

        INEZ, Ky. — State mining officials say they're seriously considering environmentalists' pleas for a moratorium on new or expanded coal-slurry impoundments after the failure of a waste pond in Martin County last month.

        Seven applications are pending to either expand existing impoundments or build new ones.

        The state does not have a formal moratorium on issuing permits to build or expand slurry ponds, but reviewers are taking a “harder look” at requests because of the Martin County failure, said Larry Adams, director of the permits division in the Department for Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

        The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, which also reviews applications, does not have a moratorium on permits, but it has decided to begin reviewing all applications at headquarters instead of district offices in order to provide more scrutiny, said spokesman Rodney Brown.

        That's at least a step in the right direction to environmentalists.

        “I definitely think they should have a moratorium on them,” said Patty Wallace of Lawrence County, a member of the state Environmental Quality Commission and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

        The environmental impact of the spill is starting to diminish.

        A Cincinnati agency that monitors water quality in the Ohio River said the slurry spilled from the pond is breaking apart and doesn't appear to be a threat to wildlife and water-treatment plants downstream.

        Jeanne Ison of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission said the sludge, which had stopped at the confluence of the Big Sandy and Ohio rivers, began breaking up in the strong current of the Ohio last week.

        However, state biologists are still measuring the effects it had on wildlife in the Big Sandy River and Tug Fork in northeastern Kentucky.

        Company officials have blamed subsidence for the leak in the pond that caused the spill.

        State and federal officials inspected the Martin County pond after subsidence caused a break in the impoundment in 1994, allowing millions of gallons of waste to escape. However, records indicate that both MSHA and the state surface mining department ignored cautions raised by their own staff members.

        Both agencies eventually approved the company's plans to reinforce and expand the impoundment.

        Kentucky environmental lawyer Tom FitzGerald reviewed the state records and said they show that staff members “asked the right questions” after the 1994 impoundment failure, but don't show that anyone pursued them.

        “No one's following up and holding the company's feet to the fire,” he said.


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- Mining officials consider moratorium pleas