WASHINGTON (CN) – A last-minute regulatory change by the Bush administration will let coal companies foul watersheds by dumping mining waste near streams, the National Parks Conservation Association claims in Federal Court. The Association sued former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, the EPA and the U.S. Office of Surface Mining and Enforcement.
The OSM on Dec. 12 changed its rules for dumping “Excess Spoil, Coal Mine Waste, and Buffers for Perennial and Intermittent Streams.” The new rule, published in the Federal Register that day, took effect on Jan. 12. The EPA approved the rule change on Dec. 2.
The rule reversed a rule in effect since 1983 that prohibited dumping of coal waste within 100 feet of streams, or disturbing streams and buffer zones by coal mining. But the Bush administration said coal companies can dump their waste “merely upon a showing by the operator that avoidance is not reasonably possible,” and “eliminates the requirement that the regulatory authority must find that such activities do not cause or contribute to violations of water quality standards and do not adversely impact water quantity and quality and the environmental values of the stream,” according to the complaint.
The change will further ruin Appalachian streams that already were devastated by lack of enforcement of the 1983 rule, the complaint states. It says mountaintop mining and dumping hurt 1,208 miles of Appalachian streams from 1992 to 2002, and the EPA predicted in 2003 that if mining continues as usual, “an additional 724 miles of headwater streams would be lost by 2013.” The last-minute rule change will exacerbate that ruination.
Plaintiff wants the last-minute rule change enjoined, and other relief. It is represented by Deborah Murray with the Southern Environmental Law Center of Charlottesville, Va.