Government regulators survey coal mines from the sky
The Kentucky Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement has spent more than $477,000 on helicopter flights over coal mining operations over four years, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.
The AP review found that each citation issued to mines over violations spotted through aerial surveillance cost the agency $2,000.
The agency uses aerial surveys in central Appalachia, where controversial mountaintop-removal mining takes place.
The surveys, initiated by the federal Office of Surface Mining, have been criticized by the coal mining industry. "Is it not better to have a regulator on the ground rather than 1,000 feet in the air?" Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett asked.
But the agency defended its surveillance program.
"We feel the helicopter's value as an enforcement tool is a necessary component of our overall enforcement program, and we would suffer greatly if we did not use it," spokesman Dick Brown said.
Some have questioned the cost-effectiveness of the program. Others, like the American Civil Liberties Union, expressed privacy concerns. "From our standpoint, there definitely needs to be clear restrictions on the use of aerial surveillance," said Bill Sharp, an attorney for the ACLU in Louisville, Ky.