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Final Stream Protection Rule released
December 19, 2016

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) released final regulations for the Stream Protection Rule on Dec. 19. The rule will go into effect 30 days after it was released, or, one before President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

The rule is an update to a 33-year old regulation that the DOI says will prevent or minimize impacts to surface water and ground water from coal mining operations. The DOI said, “the final rule updates regulation and establishes clear requirements for responsible surface coal mining that will protect 9,656 km (6,000 miles) of streams and 12,850 ha (52,000 acres) of forests during the next two decades preserving community health and economic opportunities while meeting the nation’s energy needs.”

Opponents of the rule say it will make it even more costly to mine coal in the United States by adding significant costs to coal mining companies that are already struggling.

The National Mining Association (NMA) expressed extreme opposition to the rule saying it duplicates already extensive environmental protections at both the state and federal levels and that it “provides no discernable environmental benefit.”

“The decision to promulgate this duplicative rule at this stage is post-election midnight regulation and therefore obstructionism at its worst,” said Hal Quinn, NMA’s president and CEO. “This is after the agency failed in its obligation to engage mining states in the rule’s development and ended up with a massive rulemaking that is a win for bureaucracy and extreme environmental groups, and a loss for everyday Americans.”

The broad new rules require coal companies to “to avoid mining practices that permanently pollute streams, destroy drinking water sources, increase flood risk, and threaten forests.”

Companies will be required to test and monitor the conditions of all streams that could be affected by their mining, “before, during and after their operations,” the Interior Department said. The testing is meant to provide baseline data that would help government agencies determine if there had been any pollution due to coal mining.

“The responsible rule released today represents a modern and balanced approach to meeting the nation’s energy needs,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. “Regulations need to keep pace with modern mining practices, so we worked closely with many stakeholders to craft a plan that protects water quality, supports economic opportunities, safeguards our environment and makes coalfield communities more resilient for a diversified economic future.”

The administration is denying that its rule will economically crush coal companies.

“This rule takes into account the extensive and substantive comments we received from state regulators, mining companies and local communities across the country,” said Janice Schneider, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management.  

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