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Stream protection rule battle continues

Intelligencer/Wheeling News Register file photo hoto by Casey Junkins As the Obama administration proceeds with its rule designed to limit stream damage from coal mining, the House of Representatives passed a bill to require the administration to study how the plan will impact the economy.
Intelligencer/Wheeling News Register file photo
hoto by Casey Junkins
As the Obama administration proceeds with its rule designed to limit stream damage from coal mining, the House of Representatives passed a bill to require the administration to study how the plan will impact the economy.

WHEELING, W.Va. — The U.S. House of Representatives is trying to prevent the Obama administration from implementing the Stream Protection Rule, a strategy which the National Mining Association claims will destroy 78,000 more coal jobs and up to 280,000 related jobs.

Even in the face of the Clean Power Plan that targets carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, as well as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards that aim to curb mercury pollution from those plants, Murray Energy CEO Robert E. Murray called the Stream Protection Rule the “single greatest threat to the jobs and family livelihoods of our employees that I have seen in my 59 years of coal mining experience.”

“This rule bans underground coal mining by the longwall and other methods beneath dry ditches on the surface,” Murray said.

Last week, House members voted 235-188 to pass the STREAM Act, which would require the Obama administration’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation to consider how the rule will impact the industry by conducting scientific surveys before enacting the regulations. Reps. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, were among 34 co-sponsors of the legislation.

“The war on coal is real. Any objective observer can see this clearly. Coal miners and operators are doing everything they can to hold on, and this bill would give them a fighting chance,” Johnson said.

According to Surface Mining Enforcement Director Joe Pizarchik, implementing the rule will protect about 6,500 miles worth of streams over the next 20 years, while preventing mining-related pollution that threatens communities.

The rule would also require mining companies to restore streams and to return mined areas to their previous form and uses.

Industry leaders believe the administration plans to implement the rule this year.

According to the mining association, the total annual value of lost coal production due to the rule would approach $29 billion, while federal and state tax revenues could fall by up to $6.4 billion per year.

Just last week, St. Louis-based Arch Coal, which has operations in West Virginia, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, while other miners face financial struggles. Murray Energy recently displaced an estimated 700 workers late last year after separating 1,829 miners from employment at the company’s multiple mining sites in May.

Still, many believe the protection rule is necessary because of the decades of environmental damage involving surface and underground longwall mining.

“We need the federal government to create thoughtful stream protections that ban valley fills and ensure an end to this destructive practice. As the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation finalizes this standard, we will continue to advocate strongly in order to ensure Appalachia gets the strongest protections possible,” said Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign.

The rule would ensure protection or restoration of seasonal streams, while ensuring that land disturbed by mining operations is restored to a condition capable of supporting the uses that it was capable of supporting prior to mining.

It would require each mining permit to specify the point at which adverse impacts to water may be noticed.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation is a division of the Department of Interior.

“This proposed rule would accomplish what Americans expect from their government – a modern and balanced approach to energy development that safeguards our environment, protects water quality, supports the energy needs of the nation and makes coalfield communities more resilient for a diversified economic future,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said.

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