US authorities set stricter rules for coal mining near streams

Aerial view of a coal mine in West Virginia. (Image: Joseph Sohm | )

The US Interior Department published Monday a new rule that sets stricter conditions to coal miners with projects near streams and forests, one of several regulations the Obama administration seems to be rushing to release before President-elect Donald Trump takes office next month.

The Stream Protection Rule, which updates 33-year-old legislation with stronger requirements for responsible surface coal mining, will protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests over the next two decades, the department said.

Under the new rule, companies are not allowed to engage in mining practices that could pollute streams and drinking water sources. They also have to restore streams, and return mined areas to their original form.

“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,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in the statement.

The new norm, however, is unlikely to materialize, as most rules require at least 60 days from the period their final versions are released before they go into effect. Besides, the rule is already part of Trump’s bucket list of environmental legislation he plans to revoke, as he repeatedly noted throughout his campaign.

Under it, companies are not allowed to engage in mining practices that could pollute streams and drinking water sources. They also must restore streams, and promise to return mined areas to their original form.

They are also forced to replant such areas with native trees and vegetation, and have to test and monitor streams near coal mines before, during and after drilling.

Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito, from West Virginia, said the Stream Protection Rule was a “last-ditch effort” by the Obama administration to burden her state’s struggling coal industry.

“The decision by voters last month makes today’s announcement by the Office of Surface Mining an exercise in futility,” she said in a statement. “Working with President-elect Trump and our Republican congressional majority, I am confident that we will be able to use the Congressional Review Act to stop this rule from taking effect.”

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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