OSMRE to hold September hearings on stream protection rule

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) will in the Aug. 28 Federal Register announce the schedule for public hearings on the controversial Stream Protection Rule and the accompanying Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

The proposed rule, announced on July 16 and published on July 27, would modernize rules that are 32 years old in order to better protect people, water quality, and the environment from the adverse effects of coal mining, OSMRE said. It will hold public hearings on the proposed Stream Protection Rule and the accompanying DEIS at the following locations on the listed dates:

  • September 1 – Jefferson County Fairgrounds Event Center, 15200 W. 6th Ave., Golden, CO;
  • September 3 – Lexington Convention Center, 430 W. Vine St., Lexington, KY;
  • September 10 – St. Charles Convention Center, 1 Convention Center Plaza, St. Charles, MO;
  • September 10 – DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Pittsburgh, 500 Mansfield Ave., Pittsburgh, PA;
  • September 15 – Mountain Empire Community College, 3441 Mt. Empire Rd., Big Stone Gap, VA; and
  • September 17 – Charleston Civic Center, 200 Civic Center Dr., Charleston, WV.

The DEIS analyzes the impacts of implementing rule changes that propose to do the following:

  • Define the term “material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area” and require that each permit establish the point at which adverse mining-related impacts on groundwater and surface water reach an unacceptable level; i.e., the point at which adverse impacts from mining would cause material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area.
  • Set forth how to collect adequate premining data about the site of the proposed mining operation and adjacent areas to establish a comprehensive baseline that will facilitate evaluation of the effects of mining operations.
  • Set forth how to conduct effective, comprehensive monitoring of groundwater and surface water during and after both mining and reclamation and during the revegetation responsibility period to provide real-time information documenting mining-related changes in water quality and quantity.
  • Address the need for required monitoring of the biological condition of streams during and after mining and reclamation to evaluate changes in aquatic life. Proper monitoring would enable timely detection of any adverse trends and allow timely implementation of any necessary corrective measures.
  • Promote the protection or restoration of perennial and intermittent streams and related resources, especially the headwater streams that are critical to maintaining the ecological health and productivity of downstream waters.
  • Ensure that permittees and regulatory authorities make use of advances in information, technology, science, and methodologies related to surface and groundwater hydrology, surface-runoff management, stream restoration, soils, and revegetation, all of which relate directly or indirectly to protection of water resources.
  • Ensure that land disturbed by surface coal mining operations is restored to a condition capable of supporting the uses that it was capable of supporting before mining. Soil characteristics and the degree and type of revegetation have a significant impact on surface-water runoff quantity and quality as well as on aquatic life and the terrestrial ecosystems dependent upon perennial and intermittent streams.
  • Update and codify requirements and procedures to protect threatened and endangered species and designated critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and better explain how the fish and wildlife protection and enhancement provisions of SMCRA should be implemented.

The National Mining Association said July 16 upon release of this proposed rule that this is the latest in a series of costly and unnecessary regulations from an administration that appears determined to “destroy coal mining communities.” NMA urged Congress to block this rule, which it said will cause further job losses in a high-wage industry, adds nothing to environmental protections already ensured by state and federal agencies and responds to no new evidence of water quality damage.

“This is a rule in search of a problem,” said NMA President and CEO Hal Quinn. “It has nothing to do with new science and everything to do with an old and troubling agenda for separating more coal miners from their jobs. The agency’s own reports on existing state regulatory programs show the vast majority of mine sites are free of any offsite impacts, and the agency has produced no evidence to justify more regulations, let alone redundant ones that interfere with state agencies mining and water quality laws.”

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the regulation is not confined to Appalachian surface mines but would apply to all mining operations nationwide, NMA noted. It was developed without the benefit of state agency experts who have publicly criticized OSM’s disdain for the viewpoints of those who either operate or regulate coal mines, the mining group added.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.