The federal Office of Surface Mining is preparing to begin rewriting a Bush-era regulation that made it easier for coal companies to bury streams near mountaintop removal operations.
Agency officials said they hope to have the new regulation in place by 2012.
At issue is a regulation adopted in the waning days of the Bush administration involving how close companies could come to streams when mining coal. The change rewrote a provision that required coal companies to stay at least 100 feet away. Companies can now seek waivers to encroach into the zone.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Interior tried to overturn the Bush-era rule but a federal judge rebuff ed the effort, saying the agency had not followed public notice procedures when making the change.
The Office of Surface Mining is the lead agency for regulating federal surface mine laws.
OSM Director Joe Pizarchik said the agency is trying to develop guidelines after years of disputes and lawsuits.
“What we’re going to do is protect what’s out there — it doesn’t matter what you call it,” Pizarchik told the Charleston Daily Mail. “If we have wild trout out there before mining, we want to see that afterwards.”
Pizarchik said the proposed rewrite could change how mining is conducted because it will address potential damage to waterways across the nation, not just in Appalachia where mining in the steep-sided mountainous terrain creates fills that have buried hundreds of miles of streams.
The agency seeks to create a pre-mining water test to create a baseline, impose tougher monitoring requirements and mandate corrective actions if violations occur. It also seeks to extend the prohibition of perpetual discharges of selenium and other pollutants.
“It’s a bit different approach than has been tried in the past, but I think it will result in a better rule,” Pizarchik told the Charleston Gazette.
A notice launching the effort is expected to appear in the Federal Register on April 23.