At the Center
The Conservation Law Center provides legal counsel without charge to conservation organizations, works to improve conservation law and policy, and offers law students clinical experience in the practice of law and the profession's public service tradition.
Director Bill Weeks Named Chair of American Bar Association Task Force on Conservation Easement Law
October 27, 2015
Conservation Law Center Director Bill Weeks has been named Chair of an American Bar Association Task Force on Conservation Easement Law. Under the auspices of the Real Property, Trust, and Estate Law Section, the Task Force will work over the next year to develop recommendations for improving the clarity of applicable federal tax law, and the enhancing the conservation results achieved.
CLC Submitted Comments on Proposed Stream Protection Rule
October 27, 2015
On October 26, the CLC submitted comments* on the Office of Surface Mining’s proposed Stream Protection Rule on behalf of the Hoosier Environmental Council. The proposed rule updates surface coal mining regulations in light of new information on coal mining’s effects on ecosystems and the difficulty of replacing healthy streams impacted by mining. The proposed rule would allow companies to mine through streams if avoiding the streams is not practicable and the applicant demonstrates that she can replace the form and function of the impacted stream. However, the rule allows states with primary authority over surface coal mining to develop their own standards to measure stream function.
Coal mining operations have a poor history of restoring impacted streams. Companies generally replace the physical form of the stream (e.g. channel depth/diameter and riparian vegetation) with the promise that the stream’s functional attributes (e.g. nutrient processing rates and gross primary production) and biological communities will follow. Recent scientific studies indicate this rarely comes true. Instead, “restored” streams generally have poorer function and less valuable biological communities than unmined streams.
CLC's comments urged the agency to prohibit mining in and near intermittent and perennial streams. Avoiding impacts to streams provides the best protection. Should the agency allow mining in these streams, we encouraged the agency to clearly state that companies must restore both form and function of affected streams. We also suggested aspects of stream function that the agency should require companies to test for and replace. Strong federal standards are necessary to ensure that state regulators and coal companies meet the ultimate objective of protecting streams.
Our comments also addressed deficiencies in the proposed rule that would allow companies to kill endangered and threatened species with little oversight, result in the replacement of vegetated buffers that are too small to support most bird species, and allow state regulators to waive biological monitoring requirements in remining operations. We hope the final rule will adequately protect the environment from the well-known effects of coal mining.
CLC is Assisting The Nature Conservancy with Clearing Mineral Rights Encumbrances
October 23, 2015
The CLC is assisting The Nature Conservancy in clearing mineral encumbrances from properties in the Wabash River watershed for conservation. Many property owners do not own the mineral rights beneath their property. This means the mineral rights owner can use the surface to reach any coal, oil, or natural gas beneath the property. We are clearing abandoned rights of titles and working with owners with current rights to secure the release of the surface rights so the property can be committed to conservation use without the risk of mining or drilling occurring in the future.
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