WASHINGTON - March 30 - The Sierra Club today joined Robert Kennedy, Jr., U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), coalfield residents, and other environmental and citizen groups at a public hearing to protest a Bush administration proposal that would allow mining companies to blow the tops of off mountains and dump the waste directly into Appalachian streams.
The administration's proposal seeks to amend a 1983 "buffer zone rule" that currently prevents mining waste from being dumped within 100 feet of streams. The current rule, which is part of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), imposes the restrictions on mining companies that engage in the controversial practice of mountaintop removal mining. The U.S. Department of the Interior held public hearings on the proposal today in Washington, DC, Charleston, WV, Greentree, PA, Hazard, KY, and Harriman, TN, to gather comments about the Bush administration's plan. The public comment period on the proposal ends on April 7.
"Instead of protecting mountain streams from pollution, the Bush administration is making it easier for mining companies to destroy them," said Carl Pope, the Sierra Club's executive director. "The administration has turned a blind eye while mining companies have leveled mountain ranges and valleys. Now, after thousands of miles of Appalachian streams have been buried in mining waste, the administration wants to weaken protections instead of enforcing the current protections. These streams are not only a beautiful part of the Appalachian landscape, they are essential to the Appalachian way of life."
The buffer zone rule currently is enforced unless the government finds that dumping waste within the 100-foot protective zone won't adversely affect the water quality or quantity. The Bush administration's proposed rule would allow mining companies to mine next to or through streams if they can show, regardless of the damage, that mining operations won't increase mud and other mining waste 100 feet downstream. It also says coal-mining companies must minimize the destruction of fish and wildlife "to the extent possible."
"Let's be clear -- there is no definitive or scientific way to monitor a 'to the extent possible' provision," Pope said. "This proposal would quite simply let mining companies off the hook. Mountaintop removal mining is turning Appalachia into a desolate moonscape, damaging drinking water supplies, causing flooding, and ruining habitat for fish and wildlife. It is time to stop this devastation, not allow more of it."