(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
“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.
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.
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
Interior said its plan will be open to public comment for
60 days, and the agency will hold five public hearings on its
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Mark Drajem in Washington at
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Jon Morgan at