Cowed Interior to Consider Mountaintop Removal Rule Once Plundering Is Over in 2011

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CommonDreams.org

Cowed Interior to Consider Mountaintop Removal Rule Once Plundering Is Over in 2011

It's funny how these embarrassing announcements always come on late Friday afternoon.

While anti-mountaintop removal protests spread across the nation and at the EPA headquarters in Washington, DC last Friday, a legal representative for the Department of Interior checked the empty parking lot of the National Press Club and then scurried over to the dark corridors of the US District Court in Washington, DC, and filed the DOI's intention to consider a revision of the blatant Bush-era hijacking of the 25-year-old stream buffer zone rule, which was intended to stop mine waste from being dumped within a 100 feet of streams...in 2011.

Wow, cracking down on mountaintop removal by 2011?

Hold on a minute, says Bush-relic and Acting OSMRE director Glenda Owens. In her statement to the District Court, she resolutely declared, "it would be premature at this point to speculate on a timeline for completion of any final rule."

Noting that 1,400 miles of streams have been directly impacted by coal mining waste in Kentucky alone, Teri Blanton, of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, asks: "In the meantime, what is the DOI's interim plan? Without the Clean Water Protection Act, what rule is going to be protecting the streams now? Where is the sound science in two more years of unchecked destruction of the streams."

A critical process in mountaintop removal operations, the dumping of coal mining waste has jammed and sullied an estimated 2,000 miles of streams in the Appalachian mountain region headwaters and waterways.

As the DOI tarries, the plunder of Appalachia for the small seams of needless coal will continue unabated, despite Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's statement in June that, "The steps we are taking today are a firm departure from the previous administration's approach to mountaintop coal mining, which failed to protect our communities, water and wildlife in Appalachia."

Million of pounds of ammonium nitrate/fuel oil explosives detonate daily across the lush Appalachian mountains through needless mountaintop removal operations--including the clean energy landmark of Coal River Mountain.

Owens, a career bureaucrat who infamously defended George Bush's disastrous mining policy on mountaintop removal operations, is still sorta figuring out the OSMRE's ruling on the "approximate original contour"--32 years after the passing of SMCRA. Her testimony at the Congressional hearings for the 30th anniversary of SMCRA in 2007 is now considered notoriously out of touch with coalfield realities.

In effect, Owens' embarrassing statement to the US District Court last Friday is a wakeup call on why Friend of Big Coal Joseph Pizarchik's nomination for directorship of the demoralized OMSRE agency in charge of administrating the rules of the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act has been blocked in the Senate.

Given his disingenuous testimony on mountaintop removal at his nomination hearing, Pizarchik would simply continue the OMSRE lackluster reign of errors and delay.

According to the Alliance for Appalachia: "In April 2009, DOI Secretary Salazar requested that the Stream Buffer Zone Rule change be vacated; this decision was applauded by groups working to protect Appalachian streams and communities. This recent decision by the Department of the Interior appears to run counter to the Department's earlier actions and statements, including those outlined in a June inter-agency Memorandum of Understanding."

When a federal court rejected the DOI's initial attempt to reverse the Bush-era changes this summer, the cowed DOI pitifully responded that it was "determined toimprove mining practices and we will do so within the context of the court's ruling, which we are reviewing."

The Sierra Club points out that the DOI is spinning its wheels.

In the meantime, as the DOI flounders, lobby efforts by coalfield residents and national clean water advocates continue to appeal to the EPA, and to members of the US Congress to pass the Clean Water Protection Act and the Appalachian Restoration Act.

Jeff Biggers

Jeff Biggers is the author of The United States of Appalachia, and more recently, Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland (The Nation/Basic Books). Follow him on twitter: @JeffRBiggers

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