Kentucky Prison Project Will Threaten Endangered Wildlife, Water and People

On July 31, the Center for Biological Diversity and Human Rights Defense Center sent letters urging the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Fish and Wildlife to oppose a new maximum-security prison in Letcher County.


The federal Bureau of Prison’s draft environmental analysis revealed that the new prison could subject surrounding communities to the prison’s wastewater discharges and likely expose prisoners to contaminated water. The new prison could also destroy about 700 acres of habitat for wildlife, including habitat for two federally endangered bat species and dozens of state protected species. A final environmental impact statement is expected by the end of the summer, according to a statement from the BOP.

“Kentucky’s leaders need to take a stand to protect forests, waterways and wildlife from this sprawling new prison,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These endangered bats give us crucial ecosystem services by controlling insects, and this project could destroy the little habitat they have left.”

In addition to the federally protected bats, the project may harm dozens of state protected species, including the eastern hellbender, Kentucky red-backed vole and sharp-shinned hawk.

RELATED: Mountaintop Removal Mining Is Pushing Species to Extinction

“Instead of spending half a billion dollars to construct a new facility that will create hazardous conditions for people and destroy wildlife habitat, we need to reform our prison system,” said Panagioti Tsolkas, director of the Human Rights Defense Center’s Prison Ecology Project. “We hope Kentucky’s state agencies will oppose this project in order to protect the well-being of the public and the environment.”

Earlier this month 93 social justice, environmental and prisoner’s rights organizations sent a letter to the EPA urging the agency to include the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States in its “Environmental Justice 2020 Action” agenda. The letter illustrated a clear need for the EPA to consider prisoners as a population that faces extreme environmental justice impacts, including incarceration in unsafe facilities like the one proposed for Letcher County, which would be built on a mountaintop-removal coal-mine site.

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