A federal rule announced this week is designed to reduce the environmental impact of coal mining. It’s getting sharp criticism from politicians across coal country, while environmental groups are applauding the effort.
The Obama Administration’s Department of Interior finalized rule aims to protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests – mostly affecting Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. It maintains a buffer zone rule that blocks mining within 100 feet of streams, and imposes stricter policies that require companies to restore land to pre-mining conditions.
West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin issued a statement criticizing Interior’s lack of transparency crafting what he calls a “job-killing regulation” and casting doubt on the science behind it. Senator Shelley Moore Capito calls it a “last-ditch” exercise in futility that will be easily blocked by the incoming Republican majority.
Interior officials said the rule threatens 300 jobs when it goes into effect next month. The ailing coal industry is producing the lowest levels of coal in 30 years and three of the largest companies have filed for bankruptcy.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin:
While we all must carefully review this 1,648 page final rule, I want to reiterate that the proposed rule was very alarming in its scope and potential impacts. I believe that the manner in which this rule making was executed was flawed and lacked transparency, and I will pursue legislation to ensure it does not harm our coal mining communities and economies. Rules by the Department of the Interior and OSMRE must be based on comprehensive data that is available to stakeholders, particularly when those rules threaten to eliminate thousands of jobs. Furthermore, agencies should not be issuing duplicative rules that overlap with regulations under other environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act.
Last year, I cosponsored the Supporting Transparent Regulatory and Environmental Actions in Mining (STREAM) Act, which would require the Secretary of the Interior to make all scientific data which was used to draft the rule public. This information must be easily accessible and readily available. I remain unconvinced that this jobs-killing regulation is necessary or substantiated, particularly when you consider state and federal regulations already in place. The consequences of this regulation will have far-reaching impacts on the future of coal mining and, therefore, will only serve to hinder development of affordable reliable energy.
U.S. Senator Shelley Moore-Capito:
It is disappointing, but certainly not surprising, that the Obama Administration has decided to pursue this last-ditch effort to further harm West Virginia coal jobs. The Stream Protection Rule would cause significant harm to both surface and underground coal mines. Fortunately, the decision by voters last month makes today’s announcement by the Office of Surface Mining an exercise in futility. Working with President-elect Trump and our Republican congressional majority, I am confident that we will be able to use the Congressional Review Act to stop this rule from taking effect.
Coal River Mountain Watch:
Coal River Mountain Watch is glad that the meetings and testimony that our members and allies have participated in for seven years have finally resulted in the Stream Protection Rule. This rule, if enforced, will provide significant protection for some of our vulnerable Appalachian water sources. It will not, however, end the ongoing devastation and public health impacts imposed by mountaintop removal coal mining.
We call upon regulatory agencies such as the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to vigorously enforce the provisions of the Stream Protection Rule, rather than routinely granting variances as they did with the previous Stream Buffer Zone rule. We further call upon Congress to pass the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act to protect our citizens and put an end to the deadly practice of mountaintop removal.