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.