Court upholds water regulations

A federal appeals court has upheld part of Kentucky's regulations that are designed to prevent new pollution to rivers, streams and lakes, but said a part that grants certain exemptions — including for coal mines and factory farms — needs more work.

The decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involves a long-running dispute over what are called "anti-degradation standards" designed to protect high-quality streams, rivers and lakes.

Kentucky's regulations were rejected by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 1997 and 2000 as inadequate, but approved in 2005, shortly after several environmental groups sued the EPA for not imposing its own regulations on the state.

The environmentalists' amended lawsuit was later dismissed by U.S. District Judge Thomas Russell.

The appeals court agreed with most of his ruling, but not the portion that allowed some exemptions for permits that pollute high-quality waterways.

One of those exemptions involved coal mines, which the state argued fell under other regulations. The court said the EPA has only an informal agreement with the state that would require anti-degradation reviews of pollution from coal mines, adding that that is not good enough.

The court also rejected other exemptions that the state and EPA argued would allow only insignificant pollution, including storm water permits, sewage from single-family residences, and discharges from concentrated animal feeding operations.

The court told the EPA that it would not necessarily have to change the regulations, but provide better evidence that they are proper.

Bruce Scott, commissioner of the state Department for Environmental Protection, issued a statement that said his agency was pleased with the parts of the regulations that were upheld, and will work with the EPA in "resolving the remaining issues."

Judith Petersen of the Kentucky Waterways Alliance said the ruling shows that the EPA must "look seriously at the individual and cumulative impact" of the exemptions. The court ruling is likely to result in improved regulations, she said.

A spokeswoman for the EPA said her agency would have no comment.