Environmental groups sue over stream buffer rule
by Amelia Holliday
Numerous citizen and environmental groups from the Appalachian region are bringing a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior for its removal of what some consider a key protection for streams against mountaintop removal mining.
The groups, including the Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, collectively called the Coal River Mountain Watch, said they were preparing to file suit on Monday.
Judy Petersen, executive director of the Kentucky Waterways Alliance, said she hopes the Obama administration and the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining will uphold their promise to reverse the Bush administration’s repeal.
“We don’t enter into this litigation lightly, but we know that dumping mining wastes into streams destroys the stream and has negative impacts for miles downstream,” Petersen said. “We can wait no longer while streams and the water that flows through our communities are destroyed and degraded.”
The “Stream Buffer Zone Rule” was repealed in 2008, just before former President George W. Bush left office, which permitted widespread dumping of mine waste in intermittent and perennial streams in Appalachia. The Obama administration found the repeal to be unlawful in 2009 and set a deadline for the Interior Department to undo the repeal by 2012; however there has been no action taken to undo the repeal.
Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett told The Herald that now is not the best time for the region to have to face another struggle with coal mining regulation such as this.
“With the end goal of many of these groups being the end of coal mining, it is especially concerning that this kind of litigation is being filed at a time when Eastern Kentucky is facing layoffs and a downturn in production,” Bissett said.
Maria Gunnoe, an organizer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said this is not the only time that regulators have allowed the coal industry to get by with not following environmental protection rules.
“Regulators look the other way as the coal industry devours the region, blowing up more mountains, burying and poisoning more streams, and depopulating more communities. We’ve waited four years, and we need the protection the buffer zone would give us, and we need it enforced,” Gunnoe said.
Bissett, however, said lax regulation in the coal mining industry has not been the case.
“Coal mining is a heavily regulated industry, especially in regards to surface mining. Anti-coal activists such as these groups have found success in the past with court cases like this one, but it is our hope they will be unsuccessful this time,” he explained.
The Coal River Mountain Watch has given the department until Feb. 25 of this year to revoke the repeal before they proceed with their suit.
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