LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The state of Kentucky and the state's coal mining industry group have sued the Environmental Protection Agency over how the federal government interprets the rules for granting permits under clean water regulations.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Pikeville, challenges interim guidelines issued earlier this year by the EPA. The guidelines revolve around Kentucky's issuance of Clean Water Act permits for coal mining operations.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of the EPA blocking 11 state-issued permits related to water discharge at coal mines over concerns they don't adequately protect waterways from pollution. The 11 permits are for mines in Floyd, Bell, Pike, Knott and Harlan counties.
The state and Kentucky Coal Association want a federal judge to stop the EPA from blocking any further permits until it holds public hearings on new permit rules.
"Once again the EPA is overstepping its bounds and harming the coal industry of Kentucky,'' said Bill Bissett, Kentucky Coal Association president.
Gov. Steve Beshear said the state has tried to "strike a reasonable balance'' with the EPA on mining and environmental issues, but couldn't reach a middle ground and was compelled to join the association's lawsuit.
"However, the EPA's recent arbitrary and unreasonable actions could well have a devastating impact to Kentucky's economy,'' Beshear said.
Jalil Isa, a spokeswoman for the EPA in Washington, D.C., did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
In March, the EPA approved the issuance of draft permits by the Kentucky Division of Water. The EPA in October blocked 11 permits without citing a significant change in the rules. The EPA sent objection letters to Kentucky officials citing the state's own assessment of poor water quality in the region where the permits are being sought.
The EPA said state regulators failed to conduct analyses to determine whether the discharge proposals would violate the state's water quality standards.
Bissett said the EPA had no legal grounds to block the permits and previously had approved 30 similar mining permits after determining they were consistent with the Clean Water Act.
"The EPA is a federal agency and we need them to obey the law,'' Bissett said.