FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky officials are asking federal authorities to approve a change in how the state monitors selenium pollution in waterways.
Although environmental groups raised objections to the proposal during a discussion in Frankfort on Tuesday, the Lexington Herald-Leader (bit.ly/12JVLbX) reports a panel of lawmakers approved it in a 5-1 vote.
Under the current regulations, only one test finding of excessive selenium is needed before a citation is issued. Under the proposal, state regulators would have to do a second test on fish tissue if excessive amounts of selenium are detected in a waterway.
Selenium can be discharged during activities involving excavation including coal mining and road building.
Opponents say the change will protect coal companies from lawsuits over polluted water.
Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection Commission Bruce Scott said the change is based on science and will protect waterways.
He said the EPA and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife have recommended sampling fish tissue to determine if exposure to selenium is chronic. He said it is unclear whether selenium contamination has harmed aquatic life in the state.
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth representative Ted Withrow expressed concerns about the changes to the legislature's Administrative Regulation Review subcommittee. He said Peters Creek in Pike County has excessive selenium, but it has no aquatic life to test.
"If you could find a fish to test using the proposed regulation and it was exceeding allowable limits, we come to the problem we have tried so hard to explain to the cabinet: Who do you write the violation to? There are a dozen mines on Peter Creek," Withrow said.
Environmental groups also said selective scientific studies were used by the state Department for Environmental Protection to support the proposal.
"One part of a single study was used to defend the proposed new standard, while another part of the same study was dismissed as unsound," said Carey Henson, who is also part of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. "The scientific method does not allow for cherry picking."
Scott dismissed claims that the proposal is meant to protect coal companies and said the environmental groups were using selective studies to defend their position.
"It has nothing to do with economics," Scott said after Tuesday's meeting. "It's completely science based."
Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com