Mountaintop Mining Rule Nearing Completion
by Matthew Madia, 12/4/2008
The Bush administration has nearly finalized a dastardly rule that will make it legal for mining operations to dump the waste generated during mountaintop mining (tons of rock and dirt) into rivers and streams, in some cases destroying them completely. News reports say all that remains for the Interior Department is dotting the i's and crossing the t's. On Monday, the White House Office of Management and Budget gave its final sign off. The EPA administrator, Stephen Johnson, also endorsed the rule. Under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, Interior must consult with EPA to make sure permitted surface mining activities do not unjustly degrade air or water quality. It's hard to believe a rule that will rollback existing regulations that prevent the disposal of mining waste into rivers and streams will not dirty the water supply. But Johnson is just a puppet of the White House. In 2008, he has already kowtowed to the White House on ozone and greenhouse gas emissions. Was there any doubt he would approve this handout to the mining industry? Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin has more on the rule and its impacts: Under a 1983 law, mining operators were barred from dumping the massive piles of debris, called "valley fills," within 100 feet of any intermittent or permanent stream if the material would harm a stream's water quality or reduce its flow. But federal and state courts have issued conflicting interpretations of the law, and widespread dumping continued; the government estimated that about 1,600 miles of streams in Appalachia have been wiped out since the mid-1980s, and regulators expect that roughly 100 miles of streams will be legally filled each year under the new rule. The regulation would require companies to avoid the 100-foot stream buffer zone unless they show why they cannot do so. If they do dump the waste in the buffer zone, they must try to minimize or avoid harming streams "to the extent practicable" and compensate for the damage somewhere else. The rule will likely go into effect 30 days after being published in the Federal Register. That means, if the administration can have the rule printed by Dec. 19, it will be in effect before President-elect Obama assumes control of government. Although he supports clean coal technology, "As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama expressed 'serious concerns about the environmental implications' of mountaintop mining," according to The New York Times. Nonetheless, Bush's shrewd timing will make it nearly impossible for Obama to reverse the rule, short of undertaking a whole new rulemaking on the subject.