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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has objected to 19 mountaintop mining permits in Kentucky only days after Gov. Steve Beshear urged President Barack Obama to ease up on the state's coal industry.
The EPA notified the Beshear administration on Friday of the agency's conclusion that the proposed mining operations would cause environmental harm in the state's mountain region.
"We have significant concerns that these permits will allow discharges that may cause significant water quality impacts," James Giattina, director of the EPA's water protection division said in a letter.
The EPA's objections pertained only to mountaintop mines. The agency didn't object to 36 other permits for underground mines and coal preparation plants in both the eastern and western Kentucky coalfields.
Beshear had met with Obama at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Airport last week and urged him to change federal policies that he said were costing jobs in Kentucky's mining industry. The governor followed that meeting with a letter this week in which he said the EPA has unduly delayed mining permits that could create high-paying jobs at a time when the nation is struggling to pull out of an economic recession.
Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett was critical of the EPA's decision.
"It is important to remember that these 19 objections by the EPA deny Kentuckians good paying jobs and negatively affects our ability to provide affordable electricity to our commonwealth and the nation," Bissett said. "While President Obama and his political appointees continue to tout the American Jobs Act, Kentuckians in the coalfields remain very concerned about their ability to have a job and provide for their families."
Beshear, a Democrat seeking re-election to a second term, shared similar sentiments with Obama in his meeting and in the letter. He has been facing criticism from opponents who claim he hasn't done enough to shield the coal industry from EPA policies.
"We must have a reasoned and pragmatic approach to the regulation of the coal industry from the EPA or all industries that rely on affordable energy, not the coal industry, will suffer," Beshear said in the letter.