Administration acts to protect streams from impacts of coal mining

Polluted water runs off of an Appalachian coal mine

Credit: Matt Wasson

By Joshua Mantell

Yesterday, the Obama Administration acted to protect the health and environment of communities living near coal mining operations and the fish, wildlife, and streams they rely on by issuing its environmental analysis ahead of the Stream Protection Rule. This is the last step before the announcement of a final regulation.

The Stream Protection Rule, also known as the Stream Buffer Rule, is a strong attempt to ensure that any impacts to water, fish and other wildlife from coal mining are significantly minimized. Coal mining has costly impacts on land, air and water, but we must do everything we can to ensure that these impacts are avoided when possible and mitigated when not. That’s why this rule is another important step in modernizing energy development throughout the country.

What’s clear is coal mining harms streams and underground aquifers.

Over the last four decades, the coal strip-mining method known as mountaintop removal has flattened about 500 mountains, cut down 1.5 million acres of rich forests, and buried and destroyed 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia alone. 

In Western coal regions, coal mining pierces underground aquifers. The waters that supports domestic uses, agriculture, and surface springs and streams are drained away and polluted.. Groundwater and seasonal streams are essential in dry, delicate ecosystem to sustain people, animals, and plants.

In Alaska, salmon spawning streams are often located in immediate proximity to coal deposits. Numerous communities depend on the fish that originate in, return to, and spawn in these streams—now threatened by proposed coal mining operations.

The updated Stream Protection Rule will reduce impacts of coal mining on public water sources and wildlife by ensuring that land disturbed by surface coal mining operations is restored to a condition capable of supporting pre-mining uses.

When finalized, the new protections will:

  • Prevent countless streams from being buried and destroyed by mine waste.
  • Ensure restoration of our streams and over-mined areas using native tree and plant species so that these areas support ecosystems that existed before mining.
  • Enhance public health by reducing exposure to contaminants from coal mining in drinking water.

Updating mining practices to meet today’s expectations for environmental protection will help ensure that streams continue to provide fresh drinking water for local communities, world class places for fishing and safe and clear water for future generations.The