FRANKFORT — A committee of state lawmakers wants the Energy and Environment Cabinet to explain apparent inconsistencies between its position and that of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency on a new regulation governing how much selenium mining operations may release into Kentucky streams.
Last year, the cabinet persuaded the Administrative Regulations Review Subcommittee to sign off on a revised standard for testing acute (immediate) and chronic (cumulative) selenium levels which some mining and industrial operations are permitted to discharge into streams. Environmentalists complain the new standard isn’t founded on sound science and poses risk to fish and other aquatic wildlife.
Selenium is a chemical found in mineral ores and in trace amounts in the cells of all animals. It is toxic in larger amounts and is exposed during excavation or explosions of rock and ore, including surface mining operations.
Under the new regulation, when the higher acute threshold is detected it wouldn’t automatically trigger a sanction against the alleged polluter. Instead, the state would test tissue samples from fish and fish eggs to determine if they contained toxic levels of selenium.
At last year’s committee meeting, Ted Withrow, a retired employee of the Kentucky Division of Water and now a member of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, told the subcommittee that by the time the new acute standard triggers testing of fish tissues, “there won’t be any fish in those streams to test.”
But Bruce Scott, Commissioner of Environmental Protection, told the subcommittee “a chronic water quality criterion for selenium based on fish tissue is the appropriate manner in which to address selenium concerns.” He said the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agree that fish tissue is the appropriate manner in which to express the chronic water quality criteria for selenium.