Interior proposes Stream Protection Rule to safeguard waterways against coal mining

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider, and Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement Director Joseph Pizarchik released proposed regulations to address impacts to surface water and groundwater from coal mining.

WASHINGTON, DC, July 17, 2015 -- Today, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider, and Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) Director Joseph Pizarchik released proposed regulations to prevent or minimize impacts to surface water and groundwater from coal mining. The rule would protect about 6,500 miles of streams nationwide over a period of 20 years, preserving community health and economic opportunities while meeting U.S. energy needs.

The proposed Stream Protection Rule released today would include reasonable and straightforward reforms to revise three-decades-old regulations for coal mining in order to avoid or minimize impacts on surface water and groundwater, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources. The regulation, which reflects updated science, would replace the 1983 regulations and would better protect the resources.

The proposed rule is meant to keep pace with current science, technology and modern mining practices. Once the public has had an opportunity to provide comments and the rule is finalized, it will better safeguard communities from the long-term effects of pollution and environmental degradation that endanger public health and undermine future economic opportunities for affected communities.

Guided by the best-available science and utilizing modern technologies, the proposed rule would require companies to avoid mining practices that permanently pollute streams, destroy drinking water sources, increase flood risk, and threaten forests. Further, it would require coal companies to test and monitor the condition of streams that their mining might impact before, during and after their operations. This feature would provide baseline data to ensure that operators could detect and correct problems if or when they arise.

The proposed rule would also require companies to restore streams and return mined-over areas to the uses they were capable of supporting prior to mining activities, and replanting them with native trees and vegetation unless a conflicting land use is implemented. Through clear, measurable standards, it would promote operational accountability to achieve the environmental restoration required when operations were permitted. Moreover, economic impacts were thoroughly analyzed, and the rule is projected to have a minimal impact on the coal industry overall.

An advanced copy of the proposed rule is available on the OSMRE website. It is accompanied by a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), evaluating the environmental issues associated with the rulemaking, including alternative regulatory approaches, and a Draft Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) evaluating the economic impacts. The rule, upon publication in the Federal Register, and the associated DEIS and Draft RIA, will be open for public comment for a period of 60 days. Written comments will be accepted through the U.S. Mail, hand-delivered and couriered comments at OSMRE headquarters in Washington, D.C., and electronically through www.regulations.gov.

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