KPDES General Permits for Coal Mining, Processing and Associated Areas. For the first time, Kentucky is proposing to issue two Coal General KPDES Permits – one for eastern Kentucky and one for Western Kentucky. The draft permits are available for public comment until July 1, 2014. A public hearing on the two permits was held on June 18th.

As reported in previous issues of the Environmental Letter, KPDES permits for coal mining activities in Kentucky have been the source of considerable controversy in recent years. EPA has routinely objected to individual KPDES permits that Kentucky has sought to issue to operators, and EPA has taken an active role in working with Kentucky to develop the most recent General Permits. As required by Clean Water Act regulations, EPA will be required to review and approve or disapprove DOW’s Coal General KPDES permits once they are finalized. 

The most significant change from the existing Coal General KPDES permit is the creation of separate permits for counties in eastern and western Kentucky. DOW has recognized that geology, mining conditions, and mining practices in the state’s two coal basins creates the need for different terms and conditions in KPDES permits issued to eastern and western Kentucky operations. Other proposed changes would clarify issues of concern under the existing KPDES Coal General Permit, including: the submittal of electronic Discharge Monitor Reports, monitoring precipitation data to support alternate precipitation effluent limitations, and the requirement to use certified wastewater laboratories for KPDES monitoring and analysis. Additionally, and perhaps most significantly, the General Permits also contain certain new effluent limitations, including water-quality based limitations on selenium discharges from certain operations. 

Because the proposed new General Permits contain significant changes from the existing Coal General Permit they may have an impact on existing operations or planned new operations. Coal mine operators should carefully review the draft permits and prepare to voice any concerns they may have with DOW prior to the close of the public comment period on July 1. Coal mine operators should also plan to re-apply for coverage under the new General Permits for their existing operations. The existing Coal General KPDES permit is set to expire on July 31, 2014. In the time between expiration of the existing permit and EPA’s approval of the new Coal General Permits, new or expanded operations will not be able to apply for coverage under a general permit, but instead must seek individual permits. Additionally, when the new General Permits are finalized, all existing operations authorized by the current General Permit must apply for coverage under the new General Permits within 90 days of the date the new General Permits are issued. This will obviously create a significant permitting workload for DOW, and DOW has announced an intention to devote resources to this permitting effort, and to prioritize applications for new or expanded operations.