GAO: Coal industry debris filling eastern Kentucky hollows

Lexington Herald-LeaderDecember 11, 2009 

Coal companies got approval to fill hundreds of hollows in Eastern Kentucky during the last decade, according to a new federal report.

Such fills, called hollow or valley fills, often bury stream areas.

Regulators gave coal companies permission to put up to 2.15 billion cubic yards of spoil — rock and dirt left over from mining operations — into 1,488 fills in Eastern Kentucky between 2000 and mid-2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a report issued this week.

Nearly all those were hollow fills, which one official explained are smaller and located higher in the watershed than valley fills, the report said.

The report also covered West Virginia, where coal companies got approval to build nearly 500 fills to dispose of 2.7 billion cubic yards of spoil.

Coal companies do not build all the fills for which they get permits. The report did not count how many of the fills companies actually created.

Opponents of surface mining said the report offers further evidence that mining has caused widespread environmental damage in the two states.

"I think it adds weight to the argument that the scope of the surface mining that has taken place and is taking place is truly massive," said Ed Hopkins, director of the Sierra Club's environmental quality program. "That is a huge amount of rock and dirt."

Tierra Curry, a Knott County native who is now a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said there have been conservative estimates that 2,000 stream miles in Appalachia have been buried under hollow fills and valley fills. Mining also removes mature forests from large areas, she said.

"It is time to say enough is enough and end surface coal mining in Appalachia," Curry said.

Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association, said opponents of mining are trying to twist the report to fit their view, when in fact the report made no conclusions and was not an indictment of the industry.

The coal industry provides the most affordable fuel for generating electricity in the U.S. and does so in an environmentally responsible way, operating under a raft of rules, Popovich said.


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