The Obama administration Thursday unveiled new standards meant to better protect streams in Appalachia from the controversial mountaintop removal coal mining process.
The proposed rule, from the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM), would update three-decade-old standards that create a buffer zone around streams, prohibiting mining activities and waste from getting near them and harming the ecosystem.
Administration officials characterized the rule as a common-sense approach that uses the best available science to protect streams and groundwater from the effects of mining.
But Republicans and industry leaders immediately blasted the rule as part of President Obama’s “war on coal” and challenged the idea that the 1983 standards need updating.
The rule is part of a years-long battle the Obama administration has fought against mountaintop removal, in which miners blast away large parts of mountains and often put the waste in valleys.
In addition to avoiding streams, mining companies would have to improve their standards for testing streams for possible pollution, and the rule would require them to restore streams that get mined over.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, immediately criticized the rule and said the Interior Department did not fulfill its responsibilities to consult with states.
“The Obama administration has proven to be the bully regulation machine once again,” he said in a statement.
“Nine out of ten states have rejected the dog and pony show of inclusion OSM has put forward,” he said. “I am afraid that their concerns with the impacts of the rule on Americans will be cast aside.”
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) compared the rule to the Environmental Protection Agency’s mercury and air toxics rules, which the Supreme Court said last month were not properly written.
“It’s outrageous that less than a month after being rebuked by the U.S. Supreme Court for ignoring the costs of its regulations, the administration is doing it again with this job-crushing, anti-coal rule,” he said in a statement.
“It’s no secret that this overreaching rule is designed to help put coal country out of business. Less coal production means more Americans will be out of work and families will be forced to pay more just to keep the lights on.”