LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — State officials have unveiled new engineering requirements they say will reduce the dumping of coal waste into valleys and restore mountaintops gouged by blasting and digging.
The requirements, called the Fill Placement Optimization Process, will reduce the “number and size” of mining waste dump sites and lessen the impact on streams, according to a statement from the state Department of Natural Resources.
It “will have significant impacts on the way surface mining is conducted in steep slope areas of eastern Kentucky,” Joe Blackburn, director of the federal Office of Surface Mining branch in Kentucky, said in a statement Thursday.
Activists have long argued that the dumping of waste rock and earth into valleys and streams by mining companies degrades the environment and pollutes waterways.
The new procedures were formed by a group of state and federal officials, along with environmentalists and members of the mining industry. It will guide the engineering plan that mining companies submit as part of the permit process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal and state agencies.
“It’s something that’s going to require much improved engineering-to-mine planning,” said environmental attorney Tom Fitzgerald, a member of the study group.
Fitzgerald said the procedures will require coal companies to restore mined areas to their original shape and elevation.
He said for years the industry was allowed to skirt the elevation requirement, which is part of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.
“So you had mining operations out there that would come in and knock 1,000 feet off the top of a mountain, dump that material into the valley, and then sculpt what material was left …” Fitzgerald said.
A mining industry representative said he feared the new procedures would be costly to coal companies.
“This will definitely inflate costs for the industry,” said Dave Moss, vice president of the Kentucky Coal Association.
The Kentucky procedures “can be used as a template for other Appalachian coal states in developing alternative analyses and maximizing environmental protection,” Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Len Peters said in a statement.
The Department of Natural Resources is hiring three engineers to review the enhanced permit applications, the statement said.