Building a Stream Protection Rule
On June 11, 2009, the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) implementing an interagency action plan to reduce the harmful environmental consequences of surface coal mining operations in six states in central and northern Appalachia.
Unregulated coal mining in Appalachia and elsewhere in the nation’s coal fields has had devastating impacts on the environment, land use, and society as a whole. While SMCRA has made significant strides in regulating contemporary mining, recent studies have substantiated that adverse environmental impacts may continue in certain situations long after the completion of reclamation. As stated in the June 2009 MOU, “Streams once used for swimming, fishing, and drinking water have been adversely impacted, and groundwater resources used for drinking water have been contaminated. Some forest lands that sustain water quality and habitat and contribute to the Appalachian way of life have been fragmented or lost.”
Therefore, the Department of the Interior, through the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), has embarked upon a more protective regulatory strategy known as the Stream Protection Rule (SPR). OSMRE is currently engaged in the development of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the SPR that will analyze various options to address the impacts of burying and mining through streams, including the protection of aquatic communities in streams located on, adjacent to, and downstream from coal mining operations. In addition, the EIS OSMRE is preparing will also analyze alternatives to provide for the restoration of native forests that have been eliminated during the mining process. Finally, the EIS will consider alternatives that will further enhance restoration of mined lands to their approximate original contour in accordance with the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA).
Upon completion of the draft EIS, OSMRE will develop a proposed rule based upon the preferred alternative, taking into account the overall benefits, socioeconomic impacts, and costs of the various alternatives analyzed. At that time, OSMRE will publish both the draft EIS and the proposed rule for public comment. OSMRE encourages the public to take advantage of the public notice process and provide comments on both the draft EIS and proposed rule. Upon review and consideration of all comments received, OSMRE will develop a final Stream Protection Rule.