WASHINGTON - The U.S. Interior Department said on Monday it will try to overturn a Bush administration rule that made it easier for coal mining companies to dump mountaintop debris into valley streams.
Calling the rule "bad policy," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he will ask the Justice Department to go to the courts to withdraw the Bush regulation and send it back to Interior to stop the policy.
Salazar said the Bush-era rule allowed coal mine operators to use "the cheapest and most convenient disposal option" for mountaintop fill.
"We must responsibly develop our coal supplies to help us achieve energy independence, but we cannot do so without appropriately assessing the impact such development might have on local communities and natural habitat and the species it supports," Salazar said.
Under the Bush rule, coal mine operators can dispose of excess mountaintop debris in and within 100 feet of nearby streams streams whenever alternative options are deemed "not reasonably possible."
The Bush regulation replaced a 1983 rule that allowed dumping within 100 feet of a stream if it would not "adversely affect the water quantity or quality or other environmental resources of the stream."
The Environmental Protection Agency said last month it had legal power to block permits for mountaintop coal mines if the agency determined the mining would permanently harm water quality by polluting valley streams.
(Additional reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by David Gregorio)