Court Throws Out Bush Adminstration Rule on Mountaintop Coal Mining

It’s amazing how quickly bad policy can be eliminated if a judge rules in your favor, and that’s exactly what happened last week regarding mountaintop coal mining. 

The Washington DC federal district court threw out President GW Bush’s rule, which repealed the 1983 requirement that coal companies must leave a 100-foot buffer between mining operations and waterways.

Repealing the long-standing rule allowed coal miners to dump the enormous amounts of debris from mountaintop mining directly into streams and rivers in Appalachia.

When the Obama Administration took over, the Department of Interior went to court to re-instate the 1983 rule, but was unsuccessful.

But because it didn’t consider the impacts on endangered species, last week the court declared the rule invalid, says the Southern Environmental Law Center, which filed the suit on behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association. And the court re-instated the 1983 law that requires buffers between mining operations and waterways.

"Now that this destructive rule is history, we are hopeful that we can begin a more meaningful and science-based examination of the devastating effects of mountaintop removal and stream destruction in the Appalachian mountains," says Don Barger, southeast regional director of National Parks Conservation Association.

Mountaintop removal mining has buried an estimated 2,400 miles of Appalachian streams and polluted many more miles of waterways.

Mountaintop Removal Mining

"Coal River Mountain Watch is pleased that the court struck down the Bush rule intended to make mountaintop removal more expedient. Unfortunately, we are still stuck with regulators who refuse to enforce the previous rule, who refuse to take citizens’ complaints seriously, and who refuse to acknowledge the growing scientific evidence that mountaintop removal harms human health. We need federal takeover of the West Virginia Dept. of Environmental Protection’s failed mining division, and we need to pass the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act, H.R. 526," says Vernon Haltom, executive director of the organization. 

Not so fast, say coal advocates in the House of Representatives. They plan to vote on HR 2824, which would not only revive the rules, but would apply them in every state.

This and the coal ash, coal slurry and chemical spills in West Virginia and North Carolina prove the importance of strong regulations. Without them, the public is at the mercy of coal companies who certainly don’t have their interests in mind.

Since the Obama administration took over, it’s been criticized for not taking a tough enough stance against mountaintop removal coal mining, but the EPA issued water quality rules and did veto what would have been the biggest, most destructive mine ever (in West Virginia).

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