New Rule to Protect Streams Near Coal Mines


The Obama administration is proposing new regulations Thursday designed to reduce the impact of coal mining on the nation’s streams.

Current federal regulation designed to protect streams near coal mines date back to 1983. The proposed regulations, long anticipated, would maintain the buffer zone that prevents coal mining from within 100 feet of streams to prevent debris from being dumped into the water. But they will set clearer guidelines for companies to follow.

A summary obtained by the Associated Press said the regulations would update reclamation practices that require companies to restore streams and return mined areas to a condition capable of supporting the land uses available before mining activities. Companies also would have to replant native trees and vegetation.

Mine operators often already undertake such restoration work. The proposed rule acknowledges those advancements and seeks greater consistency from companies to expedite forest recovery.

The Obama administration has made clear for a while that it intended to develop a new rule that keeps pace with current science and modern mining practices. Some Republican lawmakers and industry groups have voiced fears that the proposed regulatory changes would force some mining operations to close, leading to job loss and higher utility costs in states where surface mining is most common, namely West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. The administration is maintaining that the costs of the proposed rule is projected to have a minimal impact on the coal industry overall.

Leading up to the release of the proposed rule later Thursday, Republicans sought to undercut the legitimacy of the process that the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement undertook in developing it. A House committee posted letters from nine states withdrawing from an environmental review process that coincided with the rule’s development because of, as one West Virginia official put it, a “lack of fundamental engagement.”

President George W. Bush sought to relax the existing regulations shortly before leaving office. The regulatory change allowed excess spoils to be placed in streams, but added new requirements designed to reduce the adverse environmental impact. A federal court tossed the rule after environmental groups sued, and the 1983 version was reinstated.

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