Coal Tattoo

Gearing up for OSMRE’s stream rule hearings

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Coal industry officials and citizen groups are both gearing up for tonight’s start of a series of public hearings on the latest proposal to replace the stream buffer zone rule.

The hearings start this evening in Denver and end on Sept. 17 here in Charleston. The full schedule is here.

This afternoon, the National Mining Association had a phone call with reporters to emphasize the industry’s belief that “the rule is just the latest in a series of costly and unnecessary regulations that will harm mining communities as well as the larger economy, while contributing very little to the environmental protections already ensured by state and federal agencies.”

Meanwhile, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition is telling its supporters that the public’s help is needed “to make sure this critical rule overcomes industry opposition.”

Let’s remember, though, what we reported previously about what the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement calls its “Stream Protection Rule“:

Coal operators would have to conduct expanded monitoring and perform additional environmental restoration, but would be freed from the threat that a 32-year-old ban on mining activities within 100 feet of streams might be used to stop them from dumping waste rock and dirt into streams, under a proposed rule unveiled Thursday by the Obama administration.

The Interior Department’s long-awaited proposal acknowledges the growing body of science that links mountaintop removal and related large-scale surface mining to severely damaged water quality, the elimination of rich and diverse forests and increased risks of serious illnesses, including cancer and premature deaths.

However, Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement backed away from again establishing a “buffer zone” around streams, a requirement that was never really enforced, allowing mining companies to bury hundreds of miles of streams across Appalachia beneath huge waste piles called “valley fills.”