Interior Hopes to Reinstate Mountaintop Mining Controls

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced today that he wants to do away with a Bush administration regulation that allowed mountaintop mining operations to dump mining debris into nearby streams. The rule was one of many rollbacks finalized near the end of President Bush’s time in office.

MountaintopInstead of opening a new rulemaking to reverse the regulation, a potentially lengthy process, Salazar “instructed the Justice Department to ask the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to vacate the rule,” according to The Washington Post.

Two coalitions of environmental groups sued Interior in the D.C. court. By effectively throwing in the towel on those suits, the Obama administration would be able to reinstate the ban on dumping debris within 100 feet of streams and rivers which had been in place since 1983.

But Joan Mulhern, an attorney with the environmental group Earthjustice, “said vacating the Bush rule ‘would be meaningless’ if Interior doesn't crack down on the ongoing dumping in streams across Appalachia,” according to the Post. "They're going back to status quo, which is a good rule, but it's not being enforced," she told the Post.

The practice doesn’t just pollute streams, it rubs them out entirely. Mountaintop mining companies chop off the tops of mountains, take the coal, and dump the debris, turning great peaks and valleys into vast plains of rubble. "1,208 miles of streams in Appalachia were destroyed from 1992 to 2002,” according to Earthjustice figures.

As Salazar said in a statement, the Bush rule “simply doesn’t pass muster with respect to adequately protecting water quality and stream habitat that communities rely on in coal country.” That’s true, but if Salazar really wants his agency to pass muster, he’ll have to ramp up enforcement once the old rule goes back into effect.

Photo by Flickr user NRDC media, used under a Creative Commons license.

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