WV Coal Industry Slams Fed Stream Rule

The State Journal
23 July 2015
By Sarah Tincher, Energy Reporter

The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement unveiled a long-anticipated rewrite of its 1980s-era rules to protect streams from being damaged by coal mining July 16, which stirred up controversy with the coal industry.

OSMRE, a branch of the U.S. Department of the Interior, first rolled back the 1983 rule, which required a 100-foot “buffer zone” adjacent to streams, in 2008. But the revision was quickly met with opposition from the environmental community, including Coal River Mountain Watch.

Now, after years of drafting the rule, the recent revision proposes to strengthen stream protections by requiring more advanced water quality testing, among other measures.
Although several conservation groups said the 1,238-page rule still isn’t strong enough because it doesn’t adequately protect streams from being directly damaged by mines, the West Virginia Coal Association was quick to condemn the proposal.

“The unrelenting assault on coal by the Obama Administration continued today, with the issuance by the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) of new revisions to the existing Stream Buffer Zone (SBZ) rule,” Jason Bostic, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said in a statement. “The OSM claims this new rule provides ‘regulatory certainty.’ How can a 1200-page rule that blurs different statutes offer clarity or certainty?”

In its 1,267-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the agency projected the proposal would have a heavy impact on Appalachia’s mining sector.

Annual compliance costs for the preferred scenario are anticipated to reach $52 million nationwide, with Appalachia seeing the highest costs at $24 million. Appalachia could also see annual coal production drop by 900,000 tons annually under the preferred scenario.

“At its core, this appears to be an insidious attempt by OSM to blur the Surface Mining Act with the Clean Water Act to accomplish what EPA has previously failed to do — trample the responsibility of the states to develop their water quality standards,” Bostic said. “It is also clear that the OSM’s estimate that ‘only’ 200 mining jobs would be lost due to the implementation of this plan has about as much validity a carnival sideshow palm reading.

“OSM arrogantly made the statement that the rule is ‘intended to protect the people of the coalfields.’ To that, we call on our congressional and state elected leaders to protect our coal miners from a runaway federal agency that is trying to replace a statute with a regulation developed in secret and wrapped in bureaucratic intrigue.”