Kentucky Legislator's Coal Mines Under Scrutiny

Jun 10, 2013

An influential Eastern Kentucky legislator owns the permits on Pike County coal mines that have been cited repeatedly by the state for safety and environmental violations.

Rep. Keith Hall’s Beech Creek Coal Co. and others that are mining coal on the Phelps Democrat’s permits have been cited since 2010 for dropping rocks on homes, mining outside of permitted areas, water pollution and failing to obey regulations on blasting, reclamation and maintaining slurry ponds.

Barbara Eldridge lives next to the largest of Beech Creek’s three surface mines near Phelps. A year ago, a rock slab the size of a truck tire slammed into her home, denting a wall and shattering a paved walkway.

“It’s a danger to everybody out here, I think. Every time you hear the blast, you wonder if something’s about to come down on you,” Eldridge said.

Neighbors and state records say rocks from that mine also have landed on the properties of four other neighbors, though no injuries have been reported.

Hall told the Lexington Herald-Leader in an email that his role in Beech Creek Coal is minimal and other companies own and mine the coal.

“During my 13-year tenure as a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, I have been a strong advocate for the health and safety of our coal miners,” Hall wrote. “I will continue to be a passionate advocate for responsible and safe coal mining. The future safety of our coal miners and environment is of my highest concern.”

State officials said Hall’s mines don’t get special scrutiny or receive favors because of his position as vice chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment. Hall also heads the Tourism Development and Energy Committee.

Kentucky officials hold Beech Creek Coal responsible for violations at the mines because the permits are in that company’s name, said Natural Resources Commissioner Steve Hohmann. Individual operators also can be held responsible for problems depending on the circumstances, Hohmann said.

In the past two years, Beech Creek Coal and the coal mine operator Kentucky Fuel have twice been summoned by state officials to discuss the citations at the Beech Creek’s largest mine. The state has issued 11 non-compliance citations at the mine and two cessation orders, temporarily halting work due to imminent danger. Since the most recent meeting Jan. 3, state inspectors have issued three more citations at the mine.