Behind the Scenes, McConnell Sought EPA Help in Kentucky

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By Anthony Adragna

Aug. 11 — The Senate's top Republican, who is one of the fiercest critics of the Environmental Protection Agency, actively sought the agency's help in determining whether radioactive material improperly disposed of in a Kentucky landfill posed an imminent safety threat, according to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Lawmakers, even those who loudly decry the agency in public, frequently seek EPA help in addressing local matters or understanding how regulatory actions may impact area businesses. But the letter from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who once described the agency as a “ bureaucratic and regulatory menace,” provides a clear example of how that behind-the-scenes dynamic frequently plays out.

“My constituent, County Judge Executive Wallace Taylor, shared with me his concerns regarding radioactive material that was dumped at the [Blue Ridge in] Estill County Landfill, which is in close proximity to Estill County schools,” McConnell wrote March 3. “As you can see from his letter, this a time sensitive issue, and I would greatly appreciate your review of this concern.”

Taylor requested that the federal EPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration begin investigations. He also asked for recommendations from the agencies about how to contain, remediate and remove the materials from the landfill, as well as federal funds to help cover those costs.

EPA Responds to Letter

Three weeks later—a somewhat unusually quick response to a congressional inquiry—the EPA responded that oversight of landfill issues falls to the commonwealth's regulatory agency, the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection.

The response, sent from Region 4 Administrator Heather McTeer Toney, said the landfill improperly received 47 loads of waste containing concentrations of radioactive materials such as radium, uranium, thorium and potassium. Those wastes—known formally as Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (TENORM)—are likely associated with oil and gas exploration activities.

In addition, the letter said Kentucky's Radiation Health Branch—located within the commonwealth's Division of Public Health Protection and Safety—was conducting various tests around the landfill but had not found any cause for concern at two nearby schools. It also said federal funds were unnecessary because the landfill owner had committed to covering cleanup costs.

“The owner/operator of the landfill is responsible for characterizing the extent of the release and taking any actions necessary to correct the effect of the release on the environment,” Toney said in the letter. “The Commonwealth of Kentucky is taking proactive steps to address citizens' concerns regarding the TENORM waste disposed at the Blue Ridge Landfill.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at

For More Information

A copy of McConnell's March letter to the EPA is available at

A copy of the EPA's March 25 response to McConnell is available at

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