EPA finalizes surface-mining guidelines

Federal regulators have finalized surface-mining guidelines that have caused controversy in Appalachian coal country, including Eastern Kentucky.

The guidelines include a new standard for judging the effect of mining on water quality.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said use of the guidelines will better protect water quality and aquatic life in streams below mountaintop strip mines. Runoff from mining operations contains substances such as chlorides and sulfates that can damage water quality.

"We have a responsibility under the law to protect water quality, and this guidance allows EPA to work with companies to meet that goal, based on the best science," Nancy Stoner, an agency official, said in a statement Thursday.

Many environmentalists have hailed the guidelines as a significant improvement.

However, opponents, including the coal industry, have argued that the EPA put the guidelines in place improperly and that coal companies can't meet them.

The guidelines will cripple companies' ability to get permits and, as a result, wipe out production and jobs in Eastern Kentucky and Central Appalachia, the industry has argued.

The EPA issued the guidelines on an interim basis in April 2010. In January, the Herald-Leader reported that in the eight months after that, only two companies got new federal water-pollution permits for mountaintop mines in Eastern Kentucky, and both rejected them as too stringent.

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