Human Rights Groups, Environmentalists Oppose New Federal Prison on Former Coal Mine in Kentucky
by Panagioti Tsolkas
On March 30, 2015, organizations and individuals from across the country joined the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), PLN’s parent organization, in filing a comment opposing a plan by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to build a new federal correctional facility in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky.
The 21-page comment was submitted pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires consideration of public input prior to the approval of projects that are recognized to have a significant environmental, as well as socioeconomic, impact. HRDC’s comment addressed multiple issues related to a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that analyzed two potential locations for constructing the largest federal prison in the region – both on former coal mining sites.
The comment followed several years of local controversy surrounding this project in a poor, rural region where the prison industry has made many unfulfilled promises of economic prosperity to local communities.
The comment provided a thorough analysis of the impact of the proposed facility and addressed social, economic and ecological concerns, including health impacts on the surrounding community from prison sewage and industrial waste; concerns for prisoners who will be forced to use contaminated water; impacts to forest, farmland and regional waterways; impacts to over 50 threatened species in the area, including the rare and federally-endangered Indiana Bat; and finally, whether the prison is actually needed and what alternatives exist to our nation’s longstanding policy of mass incarceration.
The proposed prison siting cannot proceed unless the Bureau of Prisons complies with the requirements of NEPA. Based on HRDC’s findings, the EIS fails in many ways to adequately identify environmental impacts and describe legally-required mitigation efforts.
“For 40 years the federal government has been building prisons on abandoned mines, toxic waste sites and polluted military bases, endangering the prisoners, staff and communities that house these facilities,” stated HRDC executive director Paul Wright. “The time has come to end the prison building binge, reduce prison populations and house prisoners in the communities that they come from – and will return to – in conditions that protect prisoners, staff, the environment and public safety.”
HRDC’s comment was signed by fourteen other organizations and eight individuals, including the Center for Biological Diversity, a group that has litigated on behalf of the Indiana Bat; the Abolitionist Law Center, which is representing prisoners who have reported serious health issues at a state prison in Pennsylvania related to surrounding coal mine operations; the Global Justice Ecology Project; Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and three professors at Eastern Kentucky University.
Source: HRDC press release (March 31, 2015)
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