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US Department of the Interior finalises Stream Protection Rule

Published by , Editorial Assistant
World Coal,

After much preparation the US Department of the Interior has released final regulations to prevent or minimise impacts to surface water and groundwater from coal mining. This update to 33 year old regulations establishes clear requirements for responsible surface coal mining. The new rules will safeguard 6000 miles of streams and 52 000 acres of forests over the next two decades, preserving community health and economic opportunities while continuing to meet the nation’s energy needs.

“The responsible rule released today represents a modern and balanced approach to meeting the nation’s energy needs,” said US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “Regulations need to keep pace with modern mining practices, so we worked closely with many stakeholders to craft a plan that protects water quality, supports economic opportunities, safeguards our environment and makes coalfield communities more resilient for a diversified economic future.”

The Stream Protection Rule, developed by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), is comprised of reasonable and straightforward reforms aimed at revising environmental regulations for mining that were implemented three decades ago. The regulations are devised to minimise impacts on surface water, groundwater, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources. The rule incorporates current science, technology, and modern mining practices to safeguard communities from the long-term effects of pollution and environmental degradation that endanger public health and undermine future economic opportunities for affected communities.

“This rule takes into account the extensive and substantive comments we received from state regulators, mining companies and local communities across the country,” said Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider. “We travelled the country, visited many mines, and met with many of the people who work and live in coal country to make sure we wrote the best rule possible – one that is both economically achievable and protective.”

Effective monitoring

The final rule would require companies to avoid mining practices that permanently pollute streams, destroy drinking water sources, increase flood risk, and threaten forests. In addition, it would require companies to restore streams and return mined areas to their former state prior to mining activities, and replant these areas with native trees and vegetation, unless that would conflict with the implemented land use. To help companies meet these objectives, the rule stipulates the testing and monitoring of the condition of streams that might be affected by mining – before, during and after their operations – to provide baseline data that ensures operators can detect and correct problems that could arise, and restore mined areas to their previous condition.

Economic impacts of the rule were considered and analysed and the final rule is projected to have a negligible impact on the coal industry overall.

Since announcing its intention to write a rule to clarify mining in and around streams in 2009, OSMRE received more than 150 000 written comments and statements from 15 open houses and public meetings, and extensive outreach efforts with stakeholders nationwide.

“This updated, scientifically modern rule will make life better for a countless number of Americans who live near places where coal is being mined,” said OSMRE Director Joseph Pizarchik. “We are closing loopholes and improving our rules to more completely implement the law passed by Congress.”

The final Stream Protection Rule, which will take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, is available on the OSMRE website.

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