WASHINGTON (December 2, 2008) -- In the latest move by the Bush administration to undo environmental protections, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today agreed to relax the conditions under which mining companies -- particularly those engaged in mountaintop removal -- may bury waste.
According to experts at the Natural Resources Defense Council, this change, which undermines the Clean Water Act, will weaken environmental standards for mountaintop removal mining operations. The changes to the Stream Buffer Zone rule will bury hundreds of miles of streams with rock, soil, mining sludge and other wastes, contaminating drinking water supplies throughout Appalachia, one of the poorest regions in the country.
The following is a statement by Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist at NRDC:
“The EPA’s concurrence and approval of this defective rule governing coal mining is ecologically and economically indefensible. Today’s action by the EPA, under Administrator Johnson, threatens the health and environment of thousands of people and hundreds of communities in Appalachia, which is why the governors of Kentucky and Tennessee both urged the Bush administration to reject the rule change proposed by the Office of Surface Mining.
“Only a few companies, and bad actors at that, will benefit from this rule change, which makes it legal to use the most environmentally harmful coal mining technology available. This action, once again, solidifies the disastrous environmental legacy of Bush administration.”
In 2004, when the Office of Surface Mining first proposed relaxing the buffer rule, NRDC urged the agency to abandon its proposal and to focus instead on better enforcement of the existing rule. An environmental review of the proposal released last year estimates that over 700 miles of streams in central Appalachia have already been buried by valley fills, and that over 1,200 miles of streams in the region were directly harmed by coal mining activities, including waste disposal, between 1992 and 2002 alone. That analysis also confirms that mining projects approved between 2001 and 2005 directly affected over 500 miles of streams.
Despite these conclusions, and ignoring the pleas of scientists and protests of thousands of concerned citizens, the EPA has offered its approval to the OSM to finalize changes to the rule.