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Losing the Stream Protection Rule

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

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The rule took effect in January 2017, but was revoked by Congress in February through the Congressional Review Act.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.

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