The federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) has proposed severely weakening a rule that buffers streams from the impacts of mountaintop removal mining — a form of coal mining in which entire tops of mountains are removed and the debris dumped in valleys and sometimes directly into streams. The new rule will result in polluted streams and decimated populations of fish and wildlife throughout the Southeast Rivers and Streams Ecoregion, one of the richest, rarest and most biologically important.
Since 1983 the current stream buffer zone rule has protected land within 100 feet of a stream from being disturbed by mining unless a company can prove it will not affect water quality or quantity. Under the proposed new rule, strip mine operators would have to show only that they intend to prevent, “to the extent possible using the best technology currently available,” such damage. If the new rule goes forward, coal companies will be allowed to dump massive amounts of waste directly into streams, destroying them completely.
Central Appalachia provides much of the country’s coal, second only to Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. In the United States, 100 tons of coal are extracted every two seconds. Around 70 percent of that coal comes from strip mines, and over the last 20 years, an increasing amount comes from mountaintop-removal sites.
Although Mountaintop removal is not permitted by the Clean Water Act, the Bush Administration has chosen to ignore the Clean Water Act and has encouraged strip mining companies to use the process.
Earthjustice, an environmental organization which fights legal battles on behalf of our environment, was recently successful in stopping the issuance of five permits. The federal judge in West Virginia ruled in favor of Earthjustice and declared five permits illegal. But that won’t stop the strip mining companies. What is needed is your voice to let your Congressional representatives know that you disapprove of this practice.