Sen. Conrad: Mining policy dispute remains spending-bill sticking point

The White House and Capitol Hill lawmakers are racing to make a deal on a six-month spending package to ward off a partial government shutdown at the end of Friday, when the current stopgap plan expires. Passage of a one-week stopgap is also possible.

Much of the discussion of environmental issues in the federal spending fight has focused on GOP plans to blocking funding for implementation of Environmental Protection Agency climate change rules.

But Conrad’s comment suggests that other environmental matters are dividing the sides.

The House GOP’s fiscal year 2011 spending plan, approved in February, included several provisions to thwart what Republicans (and some Democrats) call burdensome restrictions on Appalachian coal-mining.

The GOP plan to fund the government through September included Rep. Morgan Griffith’s (R-Va.) amendment that blocks funding for EPA’s effort to toughen water quality protections for Appalachian coal-mining projects.

It also contained a separate amendment by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) that would hinder EPA’s ability to block Clean Water Act permits for mountaintop-removal projects; and Rep. Bill Johnson’s (R-Ohio) amendment that would prohibit the Interior Department from using fiscal year 2011 money to develop rules governing protection of streams from mountaintop-removal mining waste.

Aides to Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could not immediately be reached for comment late Friday morning.

Mountaintop removal is a type of strip mining in which companies blow the tops off peaks in order to access the seams of coal beneath. The rock, soil and other debris is pushed into adjacent valleys, burying tiny streams that form the headwaters of larger rivers below.


—Mike Lillis contributed.