Kentucky and coal

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This article is part of the Coal Issues portal on SourceWatch, a project of Global Energy Monitor and the Center for Media and Democracy. See here for help on adding material to CoalSwarm.



As of February 2011, coal is the source of 92 percent of the state's electricity, and brings in $3.5 billion in export revenue.[1]

In 2004, Kentucky produced over 114 million short tons of coal worth approximately $3.74 billion dollars, which ranked it 3rd in the nation in coal production.[2] Kentucky was the leading coal producing state in the nation until 1988, when Wyoming took over the top spot.[3] Bituminous coal deposits in the eastern part of the state are part of the Appalachian coal basin are low in sulfur content, averaging between 1 and 2 percent by weight. Coal deposits from the western part of the state are a continuation of the Illinois coal basin and are slightly lower in heat content but higher in sulfur, averaging between 3 and 4 percent sulfur.[3]

The state consumed over 39 million short tons of coal for electrical power in 2004,[2] producing approximately 92 percent of the electricity generated in Kentucky. The state's average retail price of electricity is 5.43 cents per kilowatt hour, the 3rd lowest rate in the nation.[4] In 2003, Kentucky emitted 143 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, ranking it 13th in the nation overall.[5]

Coal mining jobs in Kentucky have fallen from 50,000 positions in 1979 to 18,000 in 2011, according to the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED), and state electricity rates have risen 41 percent since 2006.[1]

Citizen activism

February 17, 2009: Hundreds rally for end to mountaintop removal, Frankfort, KY

Hundreds of activists from ILoveMountains and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, as well as actress Ashley Judd, gathered outside the state capitol building to protest mountaintop removal mining and rally for proposed legislation that been stuck for several years in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee. The bill, known as the Stream Saver Bill, is sponsored by Rep. Don Pasley, D-Winchester, and would prohibit mining operations from dumping refuse into adjacent streams. Coal interests in the legislature have thus far managed to keep the bill from getting a vote on the floor.[6]

Feb. 25, 2010: Doctors and Citizens Call on State Legislature to Break Ties with Coal

Members of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) joined Dr. Paul Epstein, associate director of the Harvard school's Center for Health and Global Environment, as he read a report on the public health costs of coal. It was presented to the House Committee on Health and Welfare. KFTC's Kevin Pentz said the group would like to see the legislature back a study of the overall costs of coal.[7]

KFTC members also read a declaration calling on the state's political leaders to break their close ties with coal, remove legislators with ties to coal companies from leadership positions, end the "extreme and sometimes violent speech" directed at people who speak out against coal in the coalfields, and take steps toward new energy sources and jobs for the state.[7]

The declaration specified that Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence, should be removed from chairmanship of the House Natural Resources Committee, since he has yet to allow a hearing on a "stream-saver" bill that would curtail mountaintop removal mining in Eastern Kentucky, a bill introduced every year. House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he had no plans to replace Gooch. Both men have close ties to the coal industry.[7]

In speaking of what they characterized as hostile feelings against them stirred up by the coal industry, KFTC mentioned several instances of hostility from Haven King, Perry County clerk and director of Coal Mining Our Future, an industry-sponsored non-profit that formed to oppose the stream-saver bill. KFTC members also discussed an unnamed coal company in Harlan County that, after having to shut down because it had put too much coal sludge in a pond, gave its laid off workers the names of community members who had complained about the pond.[7]

October 2010: Citizens suit over falsified monitoring data at ICG mines

The Court Fight for Clean Water in Kentucky

On October 7, 2010, Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper, and Waterkeeper Alliance filed a sixty-day notice letter alleging that the companies ICG (International Coal Group) Knott County, ICG Hazard, and Frasure Creek Mining, a subsidiary of Trinity Coal, exceeded pollution discharge limits in their permits, consistently failed to conduct the required monitoring of their discharges and, in many cases, submitted false monitoring data to the state agencies charged with protecting the public. Joining in the lawsuit were several local residents impacted by the dumping of mining waste into Kentucky’s waterways.[8]

In court documents filed December 3, 2010, the 59th day, the Energy and Environment Cabinet said it found no evidence of intentional fraud but did find lax procedures and documentation at the two labs. The state's review also found seven instances of discharged pollutants exceeding acceptable levels. The coal mine operators will pay $660,000 to the state because of the violations.[9]

Waterkeeper Alliance speculated in October 2010 that each of the violations could have netted a penalty of $37,500 for the more than 20,000 violations it found in its review, which would add up to about $750 million. Donna Lisenby of the group Appalachian Voices called the $660,000 settlement for about 3,000 violations the state found "a slap on the wrist." Lisenby said the groups are continuing their review of other companies' discharge monitoring reports and will watch the state's actions. The state filed its lawsuit and settlement agreement in Franklin Circuit Court ordering Frasure Creek Mining to pay $310,000 and four subsidiaries of ICG — East, Knott County, Hazard and Powell Mountain Energy — to pay a total of $350,000. The money will go to the state's Heritage Land Conservation Fund.[9]

In January 2011, the state Cabinet called the motion by the eight groups to intervene in the $660,000 settlement with coal companies "an unwarranted burden." The Cabinet called allegations that the state did a poor job of investigating complaints "bordering on specious" and said the environmental groups have no standing to join a suit in state courts over alleged violations of federal law.[10]

Wendell Berry Speaks with Jeff Biggers about Sit-in

February 11, 2011: Wendell Berry Joins Retired Coal Miners and Residents in Kentucky Rising Capitol Sit-in

On Friday, February 11, 2011, poet and activist Wendell Berry joined a group of affected coalfield residents, retired coal miners and bestselling authors have launched a sit-in in the office of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear to oppose the practice of mountaintop removal.

“I feel good about our conversation with governor because he made our difference very plain and clean cut. He thinks that all we have on our side are our own personal opinions, and that he evidently has on his side established governmental policy," Wendell Berry was quoted as saying after meeting with Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. "And he thinks that surface mining can be done without harm to the land or streams or the people. It’s very plain to me that nobody on our side thinks that it is true because they’ve seen the results with their eyes or experienced the results in their own families and homes. I would say moreover that the idea here that two sides can legitimately disagree is simply wrong. I don’t think there can be a legitimate disagreement about the destruction of ecosystems and watersheds.”

Protesters left the Governor's office on the morning of Monday, February 14, 2011. A total of 14 people participated in the weekend long sit-in.[11][12]

Protester and Morehead State University Professor John Hennen stated that when the group of activists spoke with Gov. Beshear the two sides did not come to an agreement, but the governor said he'd visit coal fields and residents in Eastern Kentucky, an area affected by mountaintop removal.

Appalachia Rising - DC Day of Action.

“He heard some of our concerns and consented to come and visit some of the coal fields and meet with coal residents in eastern Kentucky whose lives and properties have been directly damaged,” said Prof. Hennen.[13]

June 6, 2012: 22 arrested today sitting in Congressional Offices to stop mountaintop removal

On June 6, 2012, 22 people were arrested at Congressional offices in Washington DC to protest mountaintop removal. Appalachia Rising reported the following arrests: "2 from Representative Duncan’s office in Tennessee, 6 from Rep. Griffith’s office in Virginia, 7 from Rep. Rahall’s office in West Virginia, and 7 from Rep. Rogers’ office in Kentucky. Nearly 4 dozen risked arrest."[14]


In 2004, Kentucky produced over 114 million short tons of coal worth approximately $3.74 billion dollars, which ranked it 3rd in the nation in coal production.[2] Kentucky was the leading coal producing state in the nation until 1988, when Wyoming took over the top spot.[3]

Click here for a pictorial history of coal mining in Kentucky.

Legislative issues

List of polluted KY streams

In 2005 Kentucky became the first state in the nation to propose a bill that would end the dumping of coal mining waste into headwater streams and valleys, a procedure used in mountaintop removal mining to dispose of the large amount of rock and materials removed to expose seams of coal.[15] The bill, known as the Stream Saver Bill, has been introduced in the House and assigned to the Natural Resources and Environment committee three times but has not been allowed a hearing by the chairman of the committee, Rep Jim Gooch.[16]

In January 2008, Rep. Don Pasley re-introduced the Stream Saver Bill (HB164) in the House.[17] With Rep. Gooch continuing to refuse a hearing in his committee, Rep. Harry Moberly, one of the bills 23 cosponsors, moved the bill into the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee to allow testimony and committee vote on the legislation.[18]

On March 11, 2008 the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee voted 13-12 in favor of the Stream Saver bill, but came up 2 votes short of the 15 necessary to move the bill to the House floor. Three committee members, including two who had previously indicated they would vote in favor of the bill, abstained from voting.[19]

Introduced in March 2009, House Bill 537 would establish a Kentucky Renewable and Efficiency Portfolio Standard, although critics contend that the ambiguity inherent in the wording of the legislation could render it ineffective. The bill would also require Kentucky to produce four billion gallons of coal-to-liquid fuels daily. During its tenure in the state Senate, the bill has gained additional measures removing a state moratorium on nuclear power plants and allowing for oil and gas drilling on state land. The House is not expected to accept these additions, which may ultimately kill the entire bill.[20]

In February 2011, the US Legislature was considering several amendments related to coal in Appalachia within Budget Resolution (H.R. 1), including:[21]

  • Amendment #109 (Griffith-R-WV), which would defund EPA’s authority to implement its recent guidance regarding mountaintop removal.
  • Amendment #216 (McKinley-R-WV), which would defund EPA’s ability to implement its authority under section 404c to veto Clean Water Act permits that present a threat to public health and well being. The veto of the Spruce Mine #1 permit is the most well-known example of this authority, which EPA uses rarely and only in extreme circumstances.
  • Amendments #219/220 (Johnson-R-OH), which would defund the Department of Interior’s ability to implement its “Stream Protection Rule” (SPR) being drafted in order to address toxic coal waste.
  • Amendments 10 and 217, which seek to defund the regulation of toxic coal ash.

Alliance Resource Partners Employees Among Biggest Campaign Donors

It was reported in July 2011 that Alliance Coal employees were among the biggest campaign donors in Kentucky's state primary election. Ten employees of Alliance, along with their spouses, donated a total of $60 thousand to three candidates. The candidates were Democrat Allison Lundergan Grimes for Secretary of State, Republican Todd P'Pool for Attorney General, and Republican David Williams for Governor.

A spokesman for Alliance says it's up to employees whether to be politically active, and he didn't find the contributions unusual.[22]

Legal Challenges

June 2010: Challenge to Smith Station private financing

On June 15, 2010 environmental organizations challenged a decision by the federal Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to allow the East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC) to waive federal debt obligations and seek private financing for a new 278-MW coal-fired power plant at the Smith Station in Clark County, Kentucky. The Sierra Club and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth are represented by Earthjustice.

As of June 2010 the company owed over $1.3 billion for its older power plants; more than $1 billion of this debt is held, or guaranteed, by the Rural Utilities Service as well as taxpayers. Earthjustice argued that RUS failed to consider the environmental impacts of the proposed plant before granting the its funding lien. As such, the groups argued that RUS is in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. The failure to consider the environmental consequences of the lien accommodation also violates the Rural Electrification Act.

“Coal plants are financially risky in today’s market, especially given the host of new pollution regulations in the pipeline,” said Tom Sanzillo, Senior Associate of TR Rose Associates, a New York based financial consulting firm (and author of an April 2009 report of the credit condition at EKPC). “Recognizing this, RUS has stopped putting federal dollars at risk into new coal plants. Yet the agency continues to rubber stamp approval for cooperatives like EKPC to get deeper in debt and to assume ratepayers will continue to pay endless rate increases for bad deals.”[23]

August 2010: Pike County residents sue AEP and Cambrian Coal for illegal mining that aggravated flooding

In August 2010, 126 people at mine sites near Harless Creek in Pike County filed a lawsuit against AEP Kentucky and Cambrian Coal after inspectors cited the coal companies for violations in the area, which residents say flattened and eroded the landscape and contributed to the flooding and damage of their property. The companies were mining on the nearby mountains. State inspectors cited Cambrian Coal the week after the flood for having too much sediment in one pond and allegedly mining more acres than a runoff pond could handle, causing excessive runoff that damaged a home. The families are seeking compensation for what they lost, and are asking for a jury trial.[24]

October 2010: Citizens suit over falsified monitoring data

On October 7, 2010, Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper, and Waterkeeper Alliance filed a sixty-day notice letter alleging that the companies ICG Knott County, ICG Hazard, and Frasure Creek Mining, a subsidiary of Trinity Coal, exceeded pollution discharge limits in their permits, consistently failed to conduct the required monitoring of their discharges and, in many cases, submitted false monitoring data to the state agencies charged with protecting the public. Joining in the lawsuit were several local residents impacted by the dumping of mining waste into Kentucky’s waterways.[8]

The coal companies cited in the notice letter are all operating in the eastern part of Kentucky under state-issued permits that allow them to discharge limited amounts of pollutants into nearby streams and rivers. Those same permits also require industries to carefully monitor and report their pollution discharges to state officials. These monitoring reports are public documents that can be reviewed by anyone who asks for them. Among the allegations cited in the notice letter are exceedances and misreporting of discharges of manganese, iron, total suspended solids and pH. The groups and local residents bringing these claims cite a total of over 20,000 incidences of these three companies either exceeding permit pollution limits, failing to submit reports, or falsifying the required monitoring data.[8]

Under the Clean Water Act, the companies have sixty days to respond to the allegations made in the notice letter. If, at the end of that period, all violations have not been corrected, the groups and individuals plan on filing a complaint in federal court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. The plaintiffs are being represented by lawyers with the Appalachian Citizens' Law Center, the Capua Law Firm, the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, and the Waterworth Law Office.[8]

Coal companies charged $660,000 fine

The companies and the state had 60 days to review the October 2010 letter. In court documents filed December 3, 2010, the 59th day, the Energy and Environment Cabinet said it found no evidence of intentional fraud but did find lax procedures and documentation at the two labs. The state's review found seven instances of discharged pollutants exceeding acceptable levels. The coal mine operators will pay $660,000 to the state because of the violations. The state is also expanding its audit into about two dozen other laboratories that contract with the coal industry. Gov. Steve Beshear called for the labs to be certified by the state, something required for labs that test drinking water but not for coal industry-specific labs. In an interview, state officials also acknowledged that surface mine regulators haven't kept up with reviewing monitoring reports, some of which the environmental groups said were simply photocopied or partially forged from month to month.[9]

The New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance speculated in October 2010 that each of the violations it found could have netted a penalty of $37,500 for more than 20,000 violations it found in its review, which would add up to about $750 million. Donna Lisenby of the group Appalachian Voices called the $660,000 settlement for about 3,000 violations the state found "a slap on the wrist." Lisenby said the groups are continuing their review of other companies' discharge monitoring reports and will watch the state's actions. The state filed its lawsuit and settlement agreement in Franklin Circuit Court ordering Frasure Creek Mining to pay $310,000 and four subsidiaries of ICG — East, Knott County, Hazard and Powell Mountain Energy — to pay a total of $350,000. The money will go to the state's Heritage Land Conservation Fund.[9]

Environmental groups challenge settlement and file federal lawsuit

In October 2011, Appalachian Voices, Kentucky Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth said the $660,000 settlement was too low and filed federal lawsuits against the defendant companies under the Clean Water Act. The federal suits ask for civil penalties of up to $37,500 per day for each violation of the Clean Water Act.[25]

Jan. 2011: EPA to review state's air quality standards

On Jan. 14, 2011, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to a consent order to decide by April 15, 2011, whether Kentucky’s air quality regulations, issued about five years ago, meet national standards. The request for review was made by Berea-based Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF), which filed suit in federal court. Under the Clean Air Act, last amended in 1990, the EPA must approve a state’s air-quality regulations, require revisions, or impose regulations of its own, if state regulations do not meet the minimal federal standards. KEF claims state regulations to control ozone and smog in at least three counties do not meet such standards. KEF also said the state’s regulations would not sufficiently control emissions from two proposed air pollution sources, the Cash Creek coal-fire generating plant in Henderson County and the new coal gasification plant in Muhlenberg.[26]

March 2011: Groups uncover another string of potentially falsified CWA documents

On March 9, 2011, a coalition of environmental groups said Kentucky-based Nally and Hamilton Enterprises allegedly committed 12,000 violations of the Clean Water Act by filling out water permitting reports with inaccurate or repetitive information. The environmental groups said they intend to sue the company in federal court. They discovered the alleged violations while reviewing state documents, saying they found the company "cut and paste" data from previous water quality reports - repeating exactly the same data from previous months - instead of performing tests on amounts of iron, manganese and pH levels of water discharges at surface mines in seven Kentucky counties. Nally and Hamilton is Kentucky's fourth-largest producer of coal from surface mines, which include mountaintop removal operations. The action comes five months after the same environmental groups announced their intention to sue the state's top two producers of surface-mined coal for a similar pattern of violations - International Coal Group of West Virginia and Frasure Creek, a subsidiary of West Virginia's Trinity Coal, which in turn is owned by India's Essar Group. That action cited the discovery of some 20,000 violations that involved the same pattern of identical data submitted month after month over a period of years.[27]

June 2011: Groups say water violations continue

Citing gaps in state regulatory enforcement and continuing violations, Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance filed two sixty-day notice letters on June 28, 2011, alleging that ICG and Frasure Creek Mining exceeded pollution discharge limits in their Clean Water Act permits more than 4,000 times in the first three months of 2011. Also joining in the Notice were several local residents impacted by the dumping of mining waste into Kentucky’s waterways. In October of 2010, the groups filed similar notice letters against ICG and Frasure Creek for more than 20,000 violations of the Clean Water Act, alleging that the companies had falsified discharge monitoring reports by illegally filing the same data month after month. The groups say the alleged violations could have resulted in fines in the hundreds of millions of dollars under the Clean Water Act.

According to a press release by the groups, "the October filings prompted Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet officials to take industry-friendly actions to short-circuit the potential citizen lawsuits.... the officials proposed a settlement with the two companies, citing only 2,765 violations of the Clean Water Act and proposing fines against ICG and Frasure Creek of just $660,000. One of the arguments they used to justify the small number of violations and low penalties was that many of the violations were merely 'transcription errors,' not violations of pollution limits, and therefore did not warrant higher fines."

According to Scott Edwards, Director of Advocacy for Waterkeeper Alliance: “These new violations show two things. First, it exposes the Cabinet’s deal with the coal companies for the ineffective, choreographed sham we always knew it was, and second, it shows that it is almost certain that all those “transcription errors” the Cabinet relied on to soft-pedal its settlement approach were really pollution discharge violations disguised as reporting errors.”[28]

According to Grist, since the October 2010 suit there has been more accurate monitoring of water quality from the companies, which is showing substantial violation of federal and state laws, leading to the June 2011 suit.[29]

Coal Waste

As of 2011, Kentucky is the country's biggest producer of coal burning wastes, according to the EPA. Indiana and Kentucky also are the nation's top two states for coal ash ponds, with 53 and 43, respectively.[30]

The 2011 report, "State of Failure: How
 Ash" by Earthjustice and Appalachian Mountain Advocates, looked at EPA data and found that state regulations are often inadequate for protecting public health. Kentucky is fifth in the nation in coal ash generation with 43 operating coal ash ponds, 21 of which exceed a height of 25 feet or impound more than 500 acre-feet of ash.[31]

EPA releases list of 44 "high hazard" coal ash dumps

In response to demands from environmentalists as well as Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), chair of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, the EPA made public a list of 44 "high hazard potential" coal waste dumps. The rating applies to sites at which a dam failure would most likely cause loss of human life, but does not include an assessment of the likelihood of such an event. Kentucky has 6 sites, all of which are owned by E.ON subsidiaries.[32]

The following table is derived from EPA's official list of Coal Combustion Residue (CCR) Surface Impoundments with High Hazard Potential Ratings. To see the full list of sites, see Coal waste.[33]

Company Facility Name Unit Name Location
E.ON-owned Kentucky Utilities Company E.W. Brown Generating Station Auxiliary Pond Harrodsburg, KY
E.ON-owned Kentucky Utilities Company E.W. Brown Generating Station Ash Pond Harrodsburg, KY
E.ON-owned Kentucky Utilities Company Ghent Generating Station Gypsum Stacking Facility Ghent, KY
E.ON-owned Kentucky Utilities Company Ghent Generating Station Ash Pond Basin 1 Ghent, KY
E.ON-owned Kentucky Utilities Company Ghent Generating Station Ash Pond Basin 2 Ghent, KY
E.ON-owned Louisville Gas & Electric Co Cane Run Station Ash Pond Louisville, KY

Coal Ash Waste and Water Contamination

Keeping the Water Clean in Lynch, Kentucky

In August 2010 a study released by the Environmental Integrity Project, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice reported that Kentucky, along with 34 states, had significant groundwater contamination from coal ash that is not currently regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report, in an attempt to pressure the EPA to regulate coal ash, noted that most states do not monitor drinking water contamination levels near waste disposal sites.[34] The report mentioned Kentucky based Mill Creek Station, Shawnee Fossil Plant and the Spurlock Power Station were three sites that have groundwater contamination due to coal ash waste.[35]

2011: EPA visits coal mining areas

In August 2011, officials from the Environmental Protection Agency went to eastern Kentucky to meet with residents affected by coal mining, with members of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth escorting the officials from Clay County to Knott County to Letcher County, ending the trip in Harlan County. In Knott County, many residents said they were concerned with a proposed permit by Leeco Coal for the Stacy Branch Surface Mine. That permit is one that was subjected to increased scrutiny by the EPA in 2009 and is still under review.

Besides asking the EPA to not issue the permit, the residents talked about broader health, environmental, and economic concerns related to coal mining, packing into a theater in Whitesburg and testifying about water pollution, the risks of an economy that’s too dependent on coal, and the industry’s political influence.

“I want to talk for a moment about another insidious form of coal pollution," said former Kentuckians for the Commonwealth chair Doug Doerrfeld. “It is hard to overstate the degree to which the influence of coal has also polluted our democracy. While coal mining provides just 1 percent of all jobs in the state and the industry contributes 2.5 percent of Kentucky’s economic output, the power of the industry’s money in our political system is overwhelming.”

Some coal industry supporters, including Congressman Hal Rogers and chairman of the Pikeville-based Coal Operators and Associates Charles Baird criticized the EPA for not meeting with miners and state regulators during the trip, although many members of the mining industry were at a conference in Lexington, KY.[36]

Obama administration EPA actions on mountaintop removal

March 2009: Obama EPA begins to crack down on mountaintop removal

Mountaintop Removal in Kentucky

On March 23, 2009, the Obama administration began making moves to block or stall mountaintop removal mining permits. The EPA issued letters meant to halt or slow two mining permits proposed by the federal Army Corps of Engineers in West Virginia and Kentucky. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson made an official announcement on March 24, saying, "The two letters reflect EPA's considerable concern regarding the environmental impacts these projects would have on fragile habitats and streams. I have directed the agency to review other mining permits requests. EPA will use the best science and follow the letter of the law in ensuring we are protecting our environment."[37]

The decision to delay and review the two permits calls into question more than 100 pending valley fill permits in the Appalachian region.[38] In response to widespread industry dissent warning EPA not to block mining permits, as well as praise from environmentalists for the decision to deny permits, the organization issued the following clarification of its intentions:[39]

The Environmental Protection Agency is not halting, holding or placing a moratorium on any of the mining permit applications. Plain and simple. EPA has issued comments on two pending permit applications to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expressing serious concerns about the need to reduce the potential harmful impacts on water quality. EPA will take a close look at other permits that have been held back because of the 4th Circuit litigation. We fully anticipate that the bulk of these pending permit applications will not raise environmental concerns. In cases where a permit does raise environmental concerns, we will work expeditiously with the Army Corps of Engineers to determine how these concerns can be addressed. EPA’s submission of comments to the Corps on draft permits is a well-established procedure under the Clean Water Act to assure that environmental considerations are addressed in the permitting process.

April 2009: EPA challenges three MTR permits

In April 2009, EPA issued objections to three more mountaintop removal mining permits pending issue from the Army Corps of Engineers. The specific mines are Massey Energy's Republic No. 1 Surface Mine in Kanawha County, West Virginia; Frasure Creek Mining’s Spring Fork No. 2 Mine in Mingo County, West Virginia; and A&G Coal Corp.’s Ison Rock Ridge Surface Mine in Wise County, Virginia. According to the EPA letters, the three mining operations would bury about eight miles of streams.[40]

May 2009: Army Corps of Engineers suspends MTR permit for A&G Coal

On May 7, 2009, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended its approval of A&G Coal Corp.’s Ison Rock Ridge Surface Mine in Wise County, Virginia. The decision follows on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards to block the permit. The Corps stated that the suspension provides officials "an opportunity to fully evaluate concerns" raised by EPA in April 2009.[41]

June 2009: Obama administration announces plans to toughen standards for MTR permits

On June 11, 2009, the Obama administration announced plans to toughen standards for mountaintop removal mining, rather than banning the practice entirely. Officials from EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Interior Department, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality said they would order a more rigorous environmental and legal review of pending and future permit applications for MTR projects. The announcement did not clarify whether the new standards would result in more or fewer mining permits being approved, leaving both environmental and coal industry groups uncertain about whether to support the new policies.[42]

August 2009: Court rejects attempt to turn back Bush's midnight regulations on MTR

On August 12, 2009, U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. denied an effort by Obama's Interior Department to overturn a last-minute rule change by the Bush administration. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had filed a motion to toss out a Bush regulation that made it easier for coal mining companies to dump debris into valley streams. Salazar's motion was opposed by the National Mining Assocation. In his decision, Judge Kennedy said that Salazar erred in trying to "repeal a rule without public notice and comment, without judicial consideration of the merits."[43] A spokesperson for the Interior said the department is examining the court's decision and is "determined to improve mining practices."[44]

September 2009: Obama administration seeks to block West Virginia MTR permit

On September 3, 2009, the EPA issued a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers calling out problems with a permit issued for a strip-mining project in Logan County, West Virginia, the largest such permit ever issued in the state. EPA found that the mine would violate the Clean Water Act, having the "potential to degrade downstream water quality, and to cause or contribute to potential excursions of West Virginia’s narrative water quality standards." EPA has asked the Corps of Engineers to suspend, revoke, or modify the permit. In response, the Corps is seeking a 30-day stay in legal proceedings over the permit, so that its experts can re-examine the project.[45] The full EPA letter is available here.

September 2009: EPA holds 79 MTR permits for review

The EPA identified 79 mountaintop removal permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia that it said would likely affect water quality. The agency put the permits on hold to allow for further study to ensure the projects will not violate the Clean Water Act. Mary Anne Hitt of the Sierra Club described the move as "a sea change in enforcement" over the Bush administration, during which the EPA did not oppose a single permit.[46][47]

October 2010: Kentucky opposes water discharge permits

On October 6, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency objected to 11 Kentucky water discharge permits, saying they fail to protect eastern Kentucky waterways from further degradation. The letters from the EPA office in Atlanta to the Kentucky Division of Water detailed the state’s own assessment of poor water quality and said state regulators did not conduct analyses to determine whether the proposed discharges from new surface mining would likely violate state water quality standards. EPA officials also said the state failed to include pollution limits in the permits. It’s the fist time in about 20 years the federal agency has made such a move in Kentucky, and it sets up the potential for the federal government to take over the issuing of those permits and any future permits, as well as future enforcement actions, said R. Bruce Scott, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection.[48]

October 2010: KY Gov. and Industry Representatives Sue EPA

On October 18, 2010 Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear's administration and coal industry representatives sued the federal U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over coal mining permits.

The Kentucky Coal Association, in a complaint filed on October 18 in U.S. District Court in Pikeville, KY said that the EPA's blocking of state-issued permits over water pollution standards put forth in an April 2010 memo "amount to the executive branch taking legislative action and an improper deviation from the Clean Water Act of 1977."

Blocking state-issued permits is part of an "illegal agenda to end coal mining in Kentucky," Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett said in an e-mail to the state Legislative Research Commission. "This EPA continues to act without any consideration for the law, so it is our hope that the federal court system will find that the EPA's actions are being made based on political ideology alone, with no connection to actually protecting the environment."

The governor of West Virginia field a similar suit in October 2010 as well.[49]

Appalachian Coal Exports: 9 Million Tons To Be Sent To India

It was reported on August 16, 2012 that there was a private-sector agreement to import 9 million tons of coal a year from Kentucky and West Virginia. The 25-year agreement is worth $7 billion between India's Abhijeet Group and Kentucky-based Booth Energy Group and River Trading Co.[50]

Citizen groups

Pat Banks of Kentucky Riverkeeper explains into the Dale Power Station's impact on water

Coal lobbying groups

Campaign contributions

A July 2011 published report found Alliance Coal employees were among the biggest campaign donors in Kentucky's 2010 primary election. Ten employees of Alliance, along with their spouses, donated a total of $60 thousand to three candidates. The candidates were Democrat Allison Lundergan Grimes for Secretary of State, Republican Todd P'Pool for Attorney General, and Republican David Williams for Governor. It was the first time half of the couples had given more than $100 to a candidate for state office, according a Kentucky Registry of Election Finance database. The campaigns said they believe the candidates received the contributions because of their support for the coal industry. Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, said it is not unusual for contributions to be bundled, but added that "bundling can be used to make an end-run around the contribution limits to gain special access and influence on behalf of a particular individual, company or industry. Big contributions usually represent investments in shaping electoral and policy outcomes because donors know that government policy can be skewed to favor the money over the merits of a decision." A spokesman for Alliance said it is up to employees whether to be politically active, and he didn't find the contributions unusual.[51]

Power companies

Proposed coal plants




Existing coal plants

Kentucky is 6th in the nation in coal power generation, with 56 operating coal-fired power plants in 21 stations totaling 16,510 megawatts (MW).[52]

51 of these units are larger than 50MW.[53][54]

Plant Name Owner Capacity Year(s) Built
Big Sandy American Electric Power 1233 MW 1969
East Bend Duke Energy 669MW 1981
Cane Run E.ON 654MW 1962, 1966, 1969
D.B. Wilson E.ON 440MW 1984
E.W. Brown E.ON 739MW 1957, 1963, 1971
Ghent E.ON 2226MW 1974, 1977, 1981, 1984
Green River E.ON 189MW 1954, 1959
HMP&L Station Two Henderson E.ON 365MW 1973, 1974
Kenneth C. Coleman E.ON 521MW 1969, 1970, 1971
Mill Creek E.ON 1717MW 1972, 1974, 1978, 1982
R.D. Green E.ON 528MW 1979, 1981
Robert A Reid E.ON 96MW 1966
Trimble County E.ON 566MW 1990
Tyrone E.ON 75MW 1953
Cooper East Kentucky Power Cooperative 344MW 1965, 1969
Dale East Kentucky Power Cooperative 216MW 1954, 1957, 1960
Elmer Smith City of Owensboro 445MW 1964, 1974
H L Spurlock East Kentucky Power Cooperative 1371MW 1977, 1981, 2005, 2009
Paradise Tennessee Valley Authority 2558MW 1963, 1970
Shawnee Tennessee Valley Authority 1750MW 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956

For a map of existing coal plants in the state, see the bottom of this page.

Kentucky Utilities faces $140 Clean Air settlement with Justice Department and U.S. EPA

In violation of the Clean Air Act, Kentucky Utilities Company (KU) failed to install required pollution control equipment or comply with emissions limits when it modified the largest coal-fired unit at its E.W. Brown Generating Station in 1997. On February 3, 2009, the Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency imposed a $1.4 million civil penalty on KU and also required the company to spend $135 million on pollution controls. Another $3 million will go towards projects to benefit the environment and compensate for the damage caused by the plant's emissions.[55]

The settlement is part of the EPA's enforcement of the Clean Air Act's New Source Review. The act is designed to reduce harmful coal plant emissions by requiring that new sources of power generation use the best available technology to reduce air pollution.[55]

Proposed Plant Retirements

TVA at the Crossroads, produced by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

June 2011: Big Sandy Plant Units 1 and 2

On June 9, 2011, AEP announced that, based on impending EPA regulations as proposed, AEP’s compliance plan would retire nearly 6,000 megawatts (MW) of coal-fueled power generation; upgrade or install new advanced emissions reduction equipment on another 10,100 MW; refuel 1,070 MW of coal generation as 932 MW of natural gas capacity; and build 1,220 MW of natural gas-fueled generation.[56]

Included in the plan:[57]

  • Big Sandy Plant, Louisa, Ky. - Units 1 and 2 (1,078 MW) retired by Dec. 31, 2014; Big Sandy Unit 1 would be rebuilt as a 640-MW natural gas plant by Dec. 31, 2015.

August 2010: TVA Announces Plans to Retire 9 Coal-Fired Units

On August 24, 2010 TVA announced that it wil retire 9 coal-fired generating units totalling about 1,000 megawatts of capacity at three locations beginning in fiscal year 2011: Shawnee Fossil Plant Unit 10 in Kentucky, John Sevier Fossil Plant Units 1 and 2 in Tennessee, and Widows Creek Fossil Plant Units 1-6 in Alabama, including six units at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant. In addition TVA stated that it will going to eliminate 200 jobs at these plants starting in 2011, but the workers will be placed in other positions within TVA. CEO Tom D. Kilgore said that TVA would replace the sidelined coal power with greater reliance on nuclear power and energy efficiency.[58]

Coal reports

2006: Costs of coal outweigh benefits

A 2009 study of coal’s effects on Kentucky’s budget in 2006 found that the coal industry contributed $528m in revenue, but its on-budget costs—training, support, repairs to the roads, R&D for the coal industry—totalled $643m, without accounting for external costs of coal like negative environmental and health effects.[59]

2010 report links coal to poverty and health problems

In a 2010 report looking at the relationship between income and coal in Appalachia, author Dr. Michael Hendryx found that counties in West Virginia and Kentucky that engage in coal mining have higher poverty rates than those that do not, based on data from the 2000 US Census: 21.3% in coal mining areas, versus 14.3% in non-coal mining areas of the states, and 13.5% in the rest of the Appalachian region. The differences are statistically significant. In addition, the coal mining communities also have higher levels of unemployment, and lower levels of income and high school and college education. The author also notes that the number of jobs the coal mining industry provides for WV and KY is declining: in 1985, the number of coal mining jobs in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia was 67,757, but by 2007 the figure had declined to 34,155, due to increases in mechanization and mountaintop removal mining, which requires fewer workers. The author also ties the poverty rate to significant differences in age-adjusted death rates per 100,000 people based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data for the years 1997-2005: 1,067 in coal mining areas of WV and KY, versus 976 in non-coal mining areas of the states, and 948 in the rest of Appalachia. To address these disparities, the author recommends that coal severance taxes go directly to coal mining communities for jobs and education programs.[60]

2011 US report ranks Kentucky district last in several indicators of well-being

Of the 435 Congressional districts, Congressman Hal Rogers’ district (KY-05) is highest in mountaintop removal and stream damages by the coal industry, and simultaneously last in many indicators of health, based upon a 2011 American Human Development Project study, "The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008-2009".[61] The report is modeled on the United Nations Development Programme’s global Human Development Report.[21]

According to the report, out of the 435 congressional districts in the United States, district 05 ranks:[21]

  • 435th in life expectancy (last)
  • 435th in physical health (last)
  • 435th in overall well-being (last)
  • 435th in emotional health (last)

2011: Federal government report: KY mine compliance drops

According to a U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement 2010 Kentucky Evaluation Report, the number of Kentucky surface mines that met federal regulations dropped sharply from 2007 to 2010, from 87 percent of surveyed sites in 2007 and 2008 to 65 percent in 2010. As compliance levels dropped, the frequency of water pollution violations, landslides or flying rock rose from 3 percent of mine sites in 2000 to 21 percent in 2010.

OSM found that only 211 of 325 mine sites -- 65 percent -- chosen at random for the survey were in full compliance in 2010. The last time industry compliance was this low was in 1990, when the rate was 60 percent, the report concluded. The rate in the report was calculated by taking the percentage of random inspections with no observed violations compared to the total number of random inspections.

Jim Dickinson, director of the Kentucky Division of Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, said the compliance drop may be due to increased enforcement, as state Department for Natural Resources inspectors have been told: "If you see a violation, you write it." Bill Bissett, executive director of the Kentucky Coal Association, said there has been a "change in the way the rules have been interpreted." He did not specify what changes have occurred.

"These are not minor violations," said Joseph L. Blackburn, the top Office of Surface Mining official in Kentucky. There were 22,000 inspections of nearly 2,000 mine sites in 2010, covering 1.9 million acres. Blackburn said its Lexington office is reviewing each of 395 violations from 2010 to determine their "root causes."[62]

2011: Kentucky fourth highest in toxic power plant emissions

A 2011 joint report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), EarthJustice, and the Sierra Club rated the top 5 worst states for toxic power plant emissions. Some of the chemicals used to rank the states’ emission status included chromium, arsenic, lead, and mercury. In terms of sheer pounds of emissions of highly toxic heavy metals, Kentucky ranked fourth highest in the nation, with #2 rankings for arsenic.[63]

Increased birth defects in MTR areas

In a 2011 Environmental Research journal study, "The association between mountaintop mining and birth defects among live births in central Appalachia, 1996–2003" investigators reported that children born in counties home to mountaintop coal mines had a 26% higher risk of suffering birth defects, compared to ones born in non-mining regions. (Nationwide, about 1 in 33 babies suffer a birth defect, the leading cause of infant deaths.)

A number of studies had found health risks associated with coal mining regions including low birth weight. Lead researcher Melissa Ahern, a health economist at Washington State University, and colleagues decided to look for health effects on infants across four states (West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia) where mountaintop removal mining occurs. Looking at the 1,889,071 births in those states from 1996 to 2003, the researchers first found birth defects were higher in six of seven categories (including heart, lung and gastrointestinal birth defects) in mountaintop mining counties compared to elsewhere. According to the study: "Rates for any anomaly were approximately 235 per 10,000 live births in the mountaintop mining area versus 144 per 10,000 live births in the non-mining area."

Since poverty has also been linked to birth defects, the researchers controlled for social factors, such as smoking, drinking, mother's education, race and other poverty-related factors, and the team found the effect was still statistically significant, leading to the 26% higher risk of birth defects in the mountaintop mining counties.

According to Ahern: "Circulatory and respiratory effects really stood out." The study stated that birth defect rate seemed to increase over time and in regions with more mountaintop removal.[64]

Decreased life expectancy in MTR areas

In June 2011, a study was published in the journal Population Health Metrics, "Falling behind: life expectancy in US counties from 2000 to 2007 in an international context." Grist noted that analysis of life expectancy data released with the study showed that:[65]

  • All of the eight counties in Kentucky where ICG and Frasure Creek operate mountaintop-removal mines are among the bottom 10 percent of U.S. counties in terms of life expectancy;
  • All but two have seen a decrease in life expectancy over the past 10 years;
  • Two of the counties, Perry and Pike, the two biggest coal producing counties in Kentucky, were both among the bottom 10 (out of 3,147 counties) for trends in life expectancy between 1997 and 2007. While nationwide life expectancy increased by 1.5 years over the decade, average life expectancy in these two counties actually decreased by about a year; and
  • All eight of the counties have lost population over the 20 year period of the study.

Kentucky fourth highest in national toxic air emissions

Residents of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Kentucky live in states with the most toxic air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants, according to a July 2011 NRDC report, "How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States", based on data from the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (2009 data, accessed June 2011). Kentucky released 41 million pounds of toxic air pollutants in 2009, with 32 million pounds from the electricity sector (77%).

Among the key findings of the report:

  • Nearly half of all the toxic air pollution reported from industrial sources in the United States comes from coal- and oil-fired power plants.
  • Power plants are the single largest industrial source of toxic air pollution in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

Major coal mines

Below is a list of major coal mines in Kentucky. Click here for a fuller list of coal mines in the state.

As of 2010 there were approximately 392 active coal mines in Kentucky with production of approximately 104,960 short tons per year.[66]

Mine Name Owner Type Production (short tons)
Dotiki Mine Webster County Coal LLC Underground 4,733,296
Cardinal Mine Warrior Coal LLC Underground 4,487,614

All figures come from the US Energy Information Administration.[67]

Coal company agrees to settlement in mining lawsuit

In May 2009, Clintwood Elkhorn Mining, a subsidiary of TECO Energy, agreed to pay $250,000 for mining around streams in Pike County, KY without a permit. The illegal mining was discovered in spring 2008 by members of the Sierra Club and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. The mining company had applied for a permit but had started work without it.

The environmental groups filed the lawsuit in September 2008, citing violations of the Clean Water Act. The settlement requires the mining company to spend most of the settlement amount on restoring Hurricane Creek, which is part of the Levisa Fork Watershed. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has identified it as having siltation and other problems, and may contribute an additional $750,000 to the project, subject to approval of its board.[68]

Phoenix Coal receives final permit for KO mine

On May 26, 2009, Phoenix Coal announced that the company had received the final permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers for its KO Mine. The company has already received the other required permits for the KO Mine. With the final permit approved, Phoenix Coal can immediately begin mine development and coal production on the KO property. The company estimates the mine has 2.4 million tons of total coal reserves and expects it to produce over 400,000 tons in 2009.[69][70]

Ten workers injured in 2 mining accidents

The Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing is investigating two separate mining accidents that injured 10 workers on July 9, 2009. In one incident, a vehicle malfunctioned while transporting 8 miners into the Paradise Mine in Muhlenberg County, injuring all 8. The miners worked for KenAmerican, a subsidiary of Murray Energy. A Murray spokesman said the worst injury was a broken leg.

Two more workers were hurt when an unoccupied pickup truck rolled backwards and hit them at a mine site in Floyd County. Both men were operating a drill for Austin Powder Company. They were airlifted to a hospital in Huntington, WV.[71]

May 2010: MSHA Orders Six Kentucky Coal Mines to Close

In May 2010, the U.S. Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration ordered six coal mines in Kentucky to close after initiating inspections at 57 coal mines with a history of underground violations that could lead to an explosion. The inspections sweep came weeks after Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.[72]

D&C Mining Corp., Left Fork Mining Co., Manalapan Mining Co., Conshor Mining, Red Bird Coal Co., and Cawood Enterprises LLC are the operators whose mines were ordered to close. Two of the six mines were “inactive” and not extracting coal when they were ordered to shut. The active mines produced 646,645 tons of coal in 2009, according to agency data.[72]

In total, the six mines received 238 citations, 55 orders, and one safeguard.[72]

The orders have been terminated at five of the six mines. Conshor mining abated its order but shut down production. Red Bird Coal Company chose to shut down its own operations rather than comply with the citations and orders it was issued. Additionally, two operations have been sued by the U.S. for providing advance notice of the inspectors’ presence on the properties.[72]

June 2012: Alpha Natural Resources Scales Back Kentucky Operations

In June 2012 Alpha Natural Resources revealed plans to reduce its coal mining operations in Kentucky. The company said that the decision was due to continued market pressures and new regulations on coal-fired power plants which the company stated made production from certain mines in those areas unprofitable.[73]

Coal Exports

In August 2012, New Jersey company FJS Energy signed a $7 million deal with India's Abhijeet Group to purchase coal from Kentucky and West Virginia. Under the deal, Kentucky coal companies will export about 9 million tons of coal annually for 25 years to India's Abhijeet Group.[74]

Kentucky representative Keith Hall was instrumental in brokering the deal. Hall's district covers part of coal-rich Pike County, and Hall also owns several coal-related businesses in the area — including coal mines — and sits on the board of FJS Energy, the company that signed the deal with India. Hall was approached for the deal by FJS Energy's Chairman, M P Narayanan, a former chairman of Indian companies Coal India and Neyveli Lignite Co., and vice chairman for the World Mining Congress.[75]

State spent one million for illegal land swap for coal company

In Feb. 2011, it was reported that the Kentucky State Transportation Cabinet spent more than $1 million from 2006 to 2008 to close and move a 2-mile section of Route 699 at the request of a coal company, Blue Diamond Coal. Investigators with the KY cabinet's inspector general found that Blue Diamond Coal approached cabinet official Jason Blackburn about the deal in 2004. The company wanted a land swap that would allow it to mine the area where the road was located. Blackburn's office presented the idea to then-transportation secretary Bill Nighbert, who approved it. According to the inspector's report, cabinet officials were not authorized to execute the land swap.[76]



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Existing coal plants in Kentucky

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