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Federal Approval Rescinded for Kentucky Prison

On June 17, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons rescinded its approval for building a federal prison on a former coal mine in Letcher County, Ky.

In 2018, 21 federal prisoners, the public interest law firm Abolitionist Law Center and the grassroots organization Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons sued the bureau to stop construction of the proposed prison, citing concerns about destruction to the environment and health risk to inmates and workers.

The proposal for the United States Penitentiary Letcher in Roxana, Ky., has been underway for nearly 15 years. Rep. Hal Rogers (R–KY) supports the plan and claimed it could bring 300 jobs to the county. In response to the agency’s June decision, Rogers’ office said that regulations do not prevent the bureau from reissuing its record of decision in the future, WYMT Mountain News reported.

Opponents of USP Letcher, including local grassroots group Letcher Governance Project, argued Rogers’ economic growth claims are inflated. The LGP was founded in 2016 in response to Congress’ allocation of $444 million for USP Letcher, an amount that has since grown to $510 million, according to The Mountain Eagle.

Kentucky also gave the county nearly $5 million in Abandoned Mine Land Pilot Program funding to subsidize the construction of water and sewer infrastructure for the prison. While the proposed prison site is on strip-mined land, the project does not include environmental remediation. (Read more about the abandoned mine funding in the Appalachian Voices blog archives at appvoices.org/blog). — By Christine Dudley

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