Court throws out Bush ‘buffer zone’ rewrite

February 21, 2014 by Ken Ward Jr.


Here’s some news from federal court, via an Earthjustice press release issued yesterday evening:

Today a federal court struck down a controversial George W. Bush administration rule that opened up Appalachia’s streams and waterways to toxic dumping from destructive mountaintop removal mining operations.

Numerous national and Appalachian environmental and community groups challenged the midnight rule from 2008, which repealed a longstanding stream protection — a “buffer zone” of protection from mining activities and dumping around waterways. Earthjustice, on behalf of Coal River Mountain Watch, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Statewide Organizing For Community Empowerment, Sierra Club, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Waterkeeper Alliance, and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and together with co-counsel at Appalachian Mountain Advocates, the Appalachian Citizens Law Center, and Sierra Club, brought one of the legal challenges to the 2008 Bush rule, arguing that the rule unlawfully weakened protection for vital water resources.

Before the Bush rule eliminated the “stream buffer zone,” this safeguard stood for decades in order to protect American waterways from the type of extreme destruction and obliteration that is now being caused by mountaintop removal mining. Mountaintop removal mining has buried an estimated 2,400 miles of Appalachian streams and polluted many more miles of waterways.

You can read the ruling for yourself here, but keep in mind this part, which limits the on-the-ground impacts of this court decision:

OSM is in the process of developing a new stream protection rule and it would be unnecessarily costly and burdensome for OSM to administratively withdraw the 2008 Rule through notice-and-comment procedures when OSM is already working on a new rule to replace the 2008 Rule.

4 Responses to “Court throws out Bush ‘buffer zone’ rewrite”

  1. hebintn says:

    This is certainly great news. But, realistically what will be the impact? MTR will continue, will it not? What about permits issued in the last 5 years? Does the buffer zone apply retroactively? Is there any real impact in the western coal mines? Won’t big coal just challenge this court ruling and apply pressure in the corporatocracy to get it overturned? I hate to be negative but we can’t sit back, we have to keep the pressure on to accelerate the transition to clean energy.

  2. Sandra Shor says:

    Mountain top removal not only destroys wildlife habitat it destroyed natural springs (they may be streams) that actually flow down from mountains. All of these have not been named or even known of except to mountain folks that have grown up around them. Coal permits need to be revoked. Elected officials need to do everything possible to protect the minerals and resources in WV especially the people of WV.

  3. mudcop says:

    The primacy states never adopted the 2008 rule, so it was never in effect in those states. You also can’t say the 1983 rule protected streams and in the same breath say MTR has destroyed 2400 miles of streams (the actual number is closer to 1200 miles, but whatever). The 2008 rule merely codified existing practice, which was to ignore the buffer zone rule and routinely grant waivers to it. But again, it was never in effect, except in Federal program states, like Tennessee, which produces 0.1% our coal and the state doesn’t usually allow mining in streams.

  4. Steve Gardner says:

    The irony of all this can be seen in the post under OSMRE.

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