Politics & Government

Kentucky, 12 other states sue to block Obama coal mining rule

Kentucky and 12 other states have sued in an effort to block a federal rule aimed at reducing the impact of coal mining on streams.

The states filed the challenge Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Kentucky and the other states argue the rule, known as the stream protection rule, runs afoul of their rights, violates federal surface-mining law, and exceeds the authority of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The rule will hurt the already-suffering coal industry, making mining “impossible in vast areas of the country” by barring mining within 100 feet of streams, the complaint said.

“This rule, adopted by the federal government at the eleventh-hour, is not environmentally needed, conflicts with existing protections, and will do great harm to not only the state’s coal industry but to Kentuckians across the commonwealth,” Charles Snavely, secretary of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, said in a news release.

The lawsuit argues that President Barack Obama’s administration adopted the rule without allowing adequate participation by states, and that it would significantly expand the requirements of federal law but provide no additional environmental benefits.

Attorneys representing the cabinet and Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office signed the complaint.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction to block enforcement of the rule and an order killing it.

The other states involved are Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem filed a separate lawsuit challenging the rule, according to the Associated Press.

OSM worked on the stream protection rule for years before putting it in place in late December with a month left in the Obama Administration.

The requirements include more monitoring aimed at protecting water quality; greater efforts to protect the watershed outside the area covered by the mining permit; new reclamation standards; and language making it tougher for companies to mine through certain streams or bury them with waste rock blasted out during surface mining.

OSM said when it unveiled the proposed rule that it would result in improved quality in more than 6,100 miles of streams.

When the agency held a comment session on the rule in Lexington in September 2015, it estimated the rule would push down coal production by less than 1 percent in Appalachia.

The agency estimated that in Appalachia, the rule would cause the loss of an average of 210 coal jobs a year from 2020 to 2040, but would create 120 jobs a year in work needed to comply with the standards.

The coal industry said the job losses would be far greater.

Environmentalists have long argued that state and federal regulators have not done enough to keep streams from being destroyed by mining. Many saw the new stream protection rule rule as a step in the right direction, though some said it should have been even tougher

Teri Blanton, a former president of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, said it was wrong for the state to try to scuttle the rule.

“I think the state could better spend their money protecting the streams than joining this lawsuit,” Blanton said. “Everybody deserves clean water.”

The lawsuit may not be necessary to kill the rule. Republicans have pledged to get rid of it under President-elect Donald Trump.