The Stream Protection Rule was developed by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) over the course of seven years during the Obama administration. The rulemaking was an effort to better protect public waterways from mountaintop removal and other destructive coal mining practices. The rule would have updated the 1983 Stream Buffer Zone Rule.
OSMRE considered new scientific studies regarding water quality and other impacts of coal mining across the country. The main purpose of the new rule was to better protect public water from the impacts of mountaintop removal and longwall underground mining. Both mining practices are particular to Appalachia, and can devastate streams by burying headwater streams under rubble, or dewatering streams when underground mines collapse.
OSMRE held many public hearings regarding the draft rule and heard comments from citizens, environmental groups and the mining industry. The final rule was extensive, covering stream impacts, as well as reclamation and monitoring requirements. But it was also moderate, and would not have ended mountaintop removal or valley filling.
The rule took effect in January 2017, but was revoked by Congress in February through the Congressional Review Act. President Trump signed the legislation rescinding the rule, and the 1983 version is now once again in effect.
While rivers and streams near coal mining sites have some protections under the old rule, as well as various requirements under the Clean Water Act, none have been sufficient to fully protect public water from coal mining pollution. Alliance groups and their allies will continue to pursue all means of protecting public water, including citizen enforcement of existing rules, and implementation of new state and federal regulations.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to list the Black Warrior waterdog — a rare aquatic salamander found only in the Black Warrior River basin in Alabama — as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The agency has also proposed designating nearly 670 miles of river as critical habitat for the waterdog. Because of the severity and immediacy of threats currently impacting the species, both of these actions are key to fully protecting it under the Endangered Species Act.
Much of the waterdog’s range is impacted by surface mining operations, some spanning thousands of acres. Inclusion on the federal endangered species list will not only protect the waterdog, it will also provide a new tool to communities seeking to stop the destruction of North Alabama’s mountains for coal. These mountains are the tail end of the Appalachian Mountain range, and they feed beautiful headwater streams that are rich with aquatic life — making Alabama the top state in the U.S. for freshwater aquatic biodiversity.
To take action, please use BOTH of the links below and copy and paste the sample comment provided, or write your own.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Electronic Comment Portal (for Listing as Endangered)
sample comment: The Black Warrior waterdog deserves to be listed as an endangered species. Known to be a rare species for over thirty years, it is time for this salamander to achieve full protections under the Endangered Species Act. Since the Black Warrior waterdog is only found within Alabama’s Black Warrior River basin, it is a unique natural resource worth protecting from pollution, harmful coal mining activities, and habitat degradation. Thank you for proposing to list the Black Warrior waterdog as endangered, and I trust the Fish and Wildlife Service will do so.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Electronic Comment Portal (for Critical Habitat)
sample comment: The Black Warrior waterdog deserves to have critical habitat designated, as proposed. It is time for this rare salamander to have its habitat protected under the Endangered Species Act. Since the Black Warrior waterdog is only found within Alabama’s Black Warrior River basin, it is critical to protect its habitat from pollution, harmful coal mining activities, and resulting degradation. Thank you for proposing to designate nearly 670 river miles as critical habitat for the Black Warrior waterdog, and I trust the Fish and Wildlife Service will do so.
Remember “Sink-Sink,” the federal prison in Martin County, Ky., that’s slowly sinking into the earth because it was built on a former strip mine? Another Appalachian community might soon be facing this same form of “reclamation,” and they need your help fighting it.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has proposed to build a $444 million maximum security prison on an old surface mine near Roxana, in Letcher County, Ky.
Tell the Bureau of Prisons that prisons are not good reclamation, and that the government should invest in communities, not incarceration.
After the government regulated strip mining in the early 1980s, this surface mine near Roxana was chosen by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife as a prime location for its deer restocking program.
Now, the Bureau of Prisons is proposing to build a maximum security prison on it. The Kentucky River will be impacted by sedimentation and excavated mine spoil, and up to 93 acres of endangered bat habitat will be cleared.
Tell the Bureau of Prisons: surface mines in Appalachia should not be used for building prisons.
In some communities, up to 25 percent of the land has been damaged by mountaintop removal coal mining. We need real reclamation, not boondoggle prisons that are unsafe for the community and unsafe for the people who would be incarcerated there.
As Letcher County resident Mitch Whitaker wrote in a recent op-ed, “This piece of property has already been imprisoned, and it’s just now getting back to the point of literal and figurative liberation. Why do it again?”
This is your chance to officially tell the Obama administration to protect Appalachian streams.
The U.S. Department of the Interior has released a draft version of the Stream Protection Rule, which could be the most significant action taken to reduce the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining on the region’s waterways. But we need it to be stronger, and that will only happen if the administration hears from thousands of advocates like you.
Add your voice to strengthen protections for Appalachian communities.
The Stream Protection Rule is intended to limit the dumping of toxic mountaintop removal waste into streams. We’ve been demanding these protections for almost eight years and are glad the Obama administration is finally taking action. But we need this rule to be stronger!
Appalachia’s economic future depends on sustainable communities and a healthy environment, and we can’t afford to let the coal industry weaken this proposed protection for the region’s waterways. It is more important than ever for you to add your voice in the fight against mountaintop removal.
Tell the Obama administration to finalize a strong rule that protects Appalachian streams and communities.
We’ve been busy this month advocating for a strong Stream Protection Rule. Now we need you to speak up on another issue threatening Appalachia: toxic selenium pollution.
This element is leaching out of mountaintop removal valley fills in devastating amounts, causing deformities in fish and endangering the health of our streams and communities.
Take action now and tell the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it is unacceptable to weaken selenium standards and put clean water at risk.
The significance of the EPA’s decision on a new chronic selenium standard cannot be overstated. Selenium is toxic to fish and other wildlife at very low levels and is commonly found in wastewater from mountaintop removal mines. Once it is released into waterways, selenium enters the food chain and accumulates in fish, causing reproductive failure and deformities.
Officials in Kentucky have adopted, with the EPA’s approval, a standard with serious scientific flaws that does not sufficiently protect sensitive species. Without an enforceable federal limit, citizen monitoring and enforcement under the Clean Water Act will be seriously compromised.
The comment period ends on Oct. 10. Please take action today and tell the EPA to create a selenium standard that protects fish and people from the devastating impacts of mountaintop removal.
The federal Office of Surface Mining has finally released a draft version of its long-awaited Stream Protection Rule, and is holding hearings across the region to hear from community members impacted by surface coal mining. We need your help to make sure this critical rule overcomes industry opposition.
Will you join us on Sept. 3 in Lexington to show the Office of Surface Mining that Kentucky supports clean water in the state and in central Appalachia?
The coal industry has spent years trying to stall the rulemaking process and prevent science-based protections for Appalachian streams. If it succeeds in weakening the rule, hundreds of more miles of streams would be threatened by mountaintop removal.
Appalachia’s economic future depends on sustainable communities and a healthy environment. It’s crucial that we demonstrate to the agency that we’re united in support of a strong Stream Protection Rule.
Join us on Sept. 3 to demand a rule that protects Appalachia’s land, streams and people.
Where: Lexington Civic Center
430 W Vine St. Lexington, KY 40507
When: 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Appalachia’s coal-bearing counties would directly benefit from the adoption of the POWER+ plan, a proposal in the Obama administration’s 2016 budget that would direct more than a billion dollars to Central Appalachia.
But last week, the U.S. Senate appropriations committee passed a budget bill the leaves out any mention of POWER+.
The U.S. House budget leaves Virginia entirely out of the forward-thinking Abandoned Mine Lands funding reforms that were spelled out in the POWER+ Plan. That component of the plan would send $30 million directly to the Virginia coalfields for economic development and put laid-off miners back to work cleaning up the messes left by coal companies.
Please contact your senators now to make sure they support a budget that includes a path forward for Appalachian communities.
For more background, we recommend this piece by Naveena Sadasivam for InsideClimate News, which details the curious quiet around POWER+ and how the plan has been pulled into the partisan bickering that’s embroiled the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and the 2016 budget process as a whole.
Under the federal Abandoned Mine Lands program, sites that pose a threat to safety are prioritized over sites that offer a potential economic benefit if cleaned up. While this program has reduced potential hazards in the coal-mining regions of Appalachia and the U.S., it has done little to positively impact local economies.
The POWER+ Plan, however, calls for funds to be used for projects that not only improve the environment and reduce hazards, but also create an economic benefit for local economies.
There’s still time for both House and Senate to include the meaningful funding proposals outlined in POWER+. But in order for that to happen, we need to the Senate to hear a clear message that Appalachia deserves this much-needed funding!
Please contact your senators now to make sure they support a budget that includes a path forward for Appalachian communities.
CLICK on the image to sign the petition!
Jim Justice – target of the regional Justice to Justice campaign, recently expressed interest in becoming governor, much to the dismay of the thousands who have been cheated out of wages by Justice bad business practice, or had their communities damaged by outlaw mines he owns.
As Tom Torres, an activist with the Justice to Justice campaign and the group Hands Off Appalachia, says in this Grist article, “He has this public persona as a down-home charitable member of the community, and at the same time he owes millions of dollars to unpaid contractors and all these state and federal agencies for labor violations and environmental violations and safety violations.”
Sign this petition against Jim Justice‘s bad actions here to join the campaigning for him to clean up his mess and pay off his debts.
Healthy critters in our streams are an important sign that the water is safe for all life. So it’s key that we keep an eye on the crawdads!
Big Sandy crayfish photo by Guenter Schuster.
Our friends at Center for Biological Diversity have created a petition and lawsuit that forced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose to protect two species of crayfish from Appalachia under the Endangered Species Act. The crayfishes have been lost from more than half of their ranges because of water pollution, primarily from coal mining. The Big Sandy crayfish is known only from the Big Sandy River basin in eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia; the Guyandotte River crayfish is known only from the Guyandotte River basin in southern West Virginia.
This listing proposal means that federal agencies will now have to confer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before funding or permitting any activity that could harm the animals. When the listing is finalized in 12 months, it will be illegal for any person or corporation, including coal companies, to harm the crayfishes or their habitat. The Service will propose critical habitat to protect the crayfishes in the near future.
The U.S. Senate has been in session for less than three weeks, and they have already begun an attack on the Appalachian mountains and surrounding communities.
Coal industry boosters have introduced a pro-mountaintop removal coal mining amendment and they are trying to attach it to the Keystone Pipeline bill, which is expected to be voted on this week.
The amendment, introduced by Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, would block the Department of Interior from completing its ongoing rewrite of the Stream Protection Rule. The coal industry is afraid that a strong rule would make it harder for them to continue blowing up mountains and dumping the waste in streams.
Join us in fighting against this mountaintop removal amendment by writing to your senator.
We need the Department of Interior to introduce a strong Stream Protection Rule that would help us put an end to mountaintop removal once and for all. They have been writing the rule for several years, and are expected to release it this Spring.
Please contact your senator and ask them to oppose the Coats mountaintop removal amendment.