By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, December 8, US Representative Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) warned that new rules to protect streams could cost 280,000 mining jobs.
At a a hearing on the US Department of the Interior’s (DOI) recently proposed Stream Protection Rule, Congressman Gary Palmer said, “Coal Miners are not made-up stats, they are real people. The DOI needs to come to Alabama and talk to some of the coal mining families, particularly the kids, who are facing the prospect of Christmas with no presents; or young people who are withdrawing from college. Instead, the Department of the Interior has frozen out states and industry in the rulemaking process.”
The Interior Dept. has recently proposed a new Stream Protection Rule, which would have significant negative effects on energy production. The original version of the rule, passed in 1979, created a buffer zone around year-round streams near mining operations. Energy advocates are warning that the new, more stringent rule would have significant negative economic effects. Estimates say it could cost up to 280,000 Americans their jobs.
The new 600+ page rule seeks to clearly define “material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area” and require that each permit specify the point at which adverse mining-related impacts on groundwater and surface water would reach that level of damage. The rule would require a mine to collect “adequate premining data” about the site of the proposed mining operation and adjacent areas to establish a baseline for evaluation of the impacts of mining and the effectiveness of reclamation. The rule would also require that mines protect both year round as well as intermittent streams. The proposed rule is intended to ensure that land disturbed by surface coal mining operations is restored to a condition capable of supporting the uses that it was capable of supporting before mining. The proposed rule also would require revegetation of reclaimed minesites with native species unless and until a conflicting postmining land use, such as intensive agriculture, is implemented.
Critics of the proposed rule claim that it makes it cost prohibitive to build a new surface mine and is just the latest offensive in President Barack H. Obama’s (D) “war on coal.”
The period for public comment on the new rule ended on September 25, 2015.
National Mining Association (NMA) President and CEO Hal Quinn told a Senate oversight hearing that the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement’s (OSM) so-called Stream Protection Rule is more about protecting the jobs of regulators than protecting the environment: “The SPR is a massive rule in search of a purpose. OSM’s own reports show mining’s offsite impacts are insignificant. While OSM’s explanations have continually changed to justify this regulation, no explanation has ever been given for why states have been ignored in its development. Still, OSM persists in a rulemaking that has potentially devastating consequences for jobs throughout the energy supply chain as well as for the communities that must do without them and the revenue they generate.”
President Quinn said, “A technical analysis of the impact of this rule on actual mines shows that up to 78,000 coal mining jobs could be lost – added to the 40,000 already lost just in the past three years. When coal-supported jobs in manufacturing, power plants and freight rail are included, the SPR’s toll on employment rises to between 113,000 and 280,000, as one half or more of total US coal reserves are potentially placed off limits to mining.”
Quinn continued, “In re-writing 475 existing rules and adding new ones, OSM attempts to hijack, and interfere with, the missions of other agencies under state and federal laws. OSM shows again it does not understand these other programs, how they work or apply to mining. “This rule is not about protecting streams, it’s all about protecting OSM’s jobs at the expense of the jobs of our nation’s energy providers – America’s coal miners.”
Congressman Gary Palmer represents Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District.