KFTC members want stronger 402 permit

On July 31 of this year, the current General 402 Permit for Coal Mining expires.

Under the Kentucky Pollution Discharge Elimination System (KPDES), all water that leaves a mine site has to go through a pipe, which needs to be permitted so that the water can be monitored to know if it exceeds pollution standards.

Look for more information from KFTC once the first draft of the next General KPDES Permit for Coal Mining has been released. There will be an opportunity for the public to submit comments, and there likely will be a public hearing on the draft permit. Approval from the federal EPA also is required.

Coal companies have the option of either applying for an individual KPDES permit or applying to have their water discharge covered by the KPDES general permit for coal mining.

The general KPDES permit is a five-year permit developed by the Kentucky Division of Water (DoW) in order to create a streamlined process for various types of activities that discharge pollution into the streams and lakes of Kentucky. DoW must update and renew that permit every five years.

There can be a general KPDES permit for municipal sewage treatment plants, or for high schools, and there is a general permit for active coal mines and for inactive coal mines.

The general permit requires less scrutiny for potential damage to waterways and uses a “one size fits all” approach.

Aside from the difference in fees ($1,300 for a general permit and $3,300 for an individual permit), the major difference between the two is that each individual 402 KPDES permit is subject to review by the federal EPA.

Over the last few years, EPA has found reason to request additional testing and pollution discharge restrictions on about 36 individual permits, while the Kentucky Division of Water has allowed thousands of new mines and amended mine permits to be covered by the general coal mine permit.

In meetings with the Kentucky Division of Water, KFTC members have expressed their belief that Kentucky should stop using the general KPDES permit and instead require all coal companies to apply for individual permits.

They pointed out that each coal mine and each stream is different and the pollution limits should be tailored for the specific pollution coming off of each mine site.

In addition, if previous mining has already polluted a stream, then new mines should not be allowed to discharge additional pollution into the stream.

The current General 402 KPDES coal mining permit that is expiring on July 31 has numeric limits for only four pollutants – iron, manganese, pH and total suspended solids.

Members have reason to believe the next general KPDES coal permit will be different from the current permit, including possibly a general permit for eastern Kentucky coal mining and a slightly different one for western Kentucky.

KFTC is pushing for selenium discharge limits in both the eastern and western permits. Selenium, a toxic element that causes reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life, is discharged from many surface coal-mining operations across Appalachia. At very high levels, selenium poses a risk to human health, causing hair and fingernail loss, kidney and liver damage, and damage to the nervous and circulatory systems.

Also, at this point, state officials seem not inclined to place a numeric limit on conductivity even though the EPA recommends a limit of 500 micro-Siemens for central Appalachian streams. Conductivity is the measure of the ability of water to conduct an electrical current and is a good indicator of a stream’s health. Common chemicals in water that conduct electrical current and cause conductivity levels to increase include ions of sodium, chloride, phosphate, nitrate, iron, sulfate, aluminum, calcium, and magnesium.

It’s also possible that the Division of Water may not have the new general KPDES coal permit(s) completed and approved by the time the current permit expires on July 31. If this happens, coal companies will not be allowed to have their water pollution discharge covered by the general KPDES permit. They may still apply for an individual KPDES permit.

Assuming that the Kentucky Division of Water drafts a new general KPDES permit and this permit is approved, then all coal mines covered by the current general KPDES permit will have a specific time limit, likely a few months, to come into compliance with the standards of the new general KPDES permit. 


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