Coal Officials Disagree With Ruling On Sediment Ponds

By: Heather Haley Email
By: Heather Haley Email

Coal officials in Eastern Kentucky say a certain aspect of mining is important despite the fact that a judge says it violates the Clean Water Act.

On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that settling ponds used to remove sediment from streams at mountain top removal coal mines violates the Clean Water Act. Some local coal officials say the ruling jeopardizes an industry wide practice that's been used for decades.

"If you have any runoff or any rain from the dirt that we are moving, this pond will catch all that before it gets into our main streams," said Don Farmer with the Harlan Cumberland Coal Company.

The judge ruled the Army Corps of Engineers doesn't have the authority to allow mines to discharge settlements into the ponds. Corps officials say those stretches are wastewater treatment ponds and not protected waterways.

"Building the sludge ponds in the streams and now we say that a judge says that it's illegal, I would certainly hope so," said Truman Hurt with Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

A sediment pond is designed to catch runoff and hold the water while debris settle to keep it from going down stream. The ponds were first required in the late seventies because water that contains too high a load of debris violates water quality standards.

"I know there're coal there and we're going to mine it, we're not against that, but let's have a little Kentucky left when we're finished," Truman said.

But coal officials say the sediment ponds are important in keeping debris from reaching water ways.

"If you're stripping you have to have them. If you do underground deep mining, you have to have them," Farmer said.

Coal officials say the sediment ponds are one of the first things they put in when beginning a mining project and environmentalists want to know when the sediment ponds will be banned.

For now the decision does not directly affect Kentucky, but officials say they're watching closing in case the decision is upheld on appeal and a policy change is made nationwide.

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