Stand for clean water; kudos to legislators questioning selenium rule

The Beshear administration's proposed change in the water quality standard for selenium advanced through a legislative subcommittee, but without what you'd call a ringing endorsement.

"I can't look at the public and say that we had an unbiased, unattached individual or group do a study that would tell us how this would impact our health and our environment," the subcommittee's co-chairman, Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, told WFPL of Louisville.

Bell and Rep. Tommy Turner, R-Somerset, both pushed for a delay to allow the Cabinet for Energy and Environment to try to build a consensus with environmentalists on the rule change.

But the cabinet refused.

"I don't think anyone truly had a good understanding of what this will do in the future," Bell said.

Thompson said too many Kentucky streams and rivers are already dead and that he was "disappointed that an issue that's this important is dealt with in this way."

Almost half — 48 percent — of Kentucky streams assessed in 2010 were too polluted to fully support aquatic life, a measure of stream quality.

In Eastern Kentucky's Big Sandy basin, 82 percent of the assessed streams fell into this category.

Selenium is a naturally occurring substance that is safe in small concentrations but in larger amounts causes deformities and death in fish and possible harm to humans.

High concentrations of selenium have been reported downstream from some surface mines in Eastern Kentucky. This rule change is widely regarded as a favor to the coal industry.

The cabinet has not explained the rush to make this change or why it took shortcuts on the legal requirements for public participation in the rule-making process.

Before it can become final, the new regulation must be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

It also may have to withstand a legal challenge.

Thanks to Bell, Turner and Rep. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, the only committee member who voted against the regulation, for defending Kentucky's water.

Their concerns are real.