Coal Producers Face New Stream Protection Rule From Interior

(Bloomberg) — Coal producers would be subject to new

restrictions under an Obama administration proposal that would

limit operations near streams and curb the disposal of waste, a

plan that had been criticized even before it was issued.

The proposal from the Interior Department’s surface mining

office, released Thursday, would replace a Bush-era regulation

that was tossed out by a federal court. The rule would require

companies to avoid mining practices that permanently pollute

streams, destroy drinking water sources, increase flood risk or

threaten forests.

“As we engage in mining, let’s do so in a way that helps

mitigate the impact they can have on the environment,” Interior

Department Secretary Sally Jewell said on a conference call. The

rules would provide “a modern and balanced approach to energy

development,” she said.

The rules won’t take effect until finalized, probably next

year. They are meant to deal with the destruction of streams,

watersheds, endangered species and forests tied to mountaintop

mining for coal. Environmental advocates had pushed President

Barack Obama to end that practice altogether. Instead, after six

years of internal deliberations and public debate, the

department proposed rules that would require coal companies to

test streams before operating and restore them to their previous

levels of health when mining is completed.

Republican Criticism

Even before it was issued, the plan drew fire from

representatives of mining companies such as Peabody Energy Corp.

and Republican lawmakers, who argue that Obama administration’s

is taking aim at mountaintop mining operations in Appalachia

with an unnecessarily costly rule.

Earlier this year, states such as Kentucky and West

Virginia stopped cooperating with the Interior Department on

developing the proposed standards. Those two states would be

most affected by the new requirements.

“It’s no secret that this overreaching rule is designed to

help put coal country out of business,” Wyoming Republican

Senator John Barrasso said in a statement. Congress will work to

“advance legislation that will halt this assault on affordable

electricity and coal jobs across the country.”

Spending bills in the House and Senate included provisions,

opposed by the administration, to stop the rules. None have yet

made it to the president’s desk.

Coal Cuts

The new regulatory proposal is being issued as coal

producers cut thousands of jobs this year in hopes of staying

afloat amid the industry’s worst downturn in decades. The

thermal coal used by power plants is competing with low-cost gas

and tougher federal emissions standards.

The administration’s analysis of these new requirements

found that they might raise the cost of coal extracted from

parts of Appalachia, but that they would not make any coal

reserves economically unfeasible to mine.

The rules will have minimal impact on the country’s biggest

coal region, the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, because that

area is so dry and coal seams are wide, so the amount of

discarded dirt is not as large.

Industry critics said the new requirements are a solution

in search of a problem.

“The agency’s own reports on existing state regulatory

programs show the vast majority of mine sites are free of any

offsite impacts, and the agency has produced no evidence to

justify more regulations, let alone redundant ones,” Hal Quinn,

president of the National Mining Association, said in a

statement.

Interior said its plan will be open to public comment for

60 days, and the agency will hold five public hearings on its

plan.

To contact the reporter on this story:

Mark Drajem in Washington at

mdrajem@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:

Jon Morgan at

jmorgan97@bloomberg.net

Steve Geimann

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