- WEB EXCLUSIVE
- PE COFFEEHAUS
Salazar directed the United States Department of Justice to file a pleading with the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. requesting that the rule be vacated and remanded to the Department of the Interior for further action.
The Secretary pointed out what he saw as particularly exploitable conditions in the rule that would essentially vacate the regulation for ill-defined financial considerations. Under the current rule, coal mine operators are able to dispose of excess mountaintop spoil in perennial and intermittent streams, and within 100 feet of those streams whenever alternative options are deemed "not reasonably possible." Disposal into streambeds is permissible when alternatives are considered "unreasonable," which occurs under the rule whenever the cost of pursuing an alternative "is substantially greater" than normal costs.
"In its last weeks in office, the Bush Administration pushed through a rule that allows coal mine operators to dump mountaintop fill into streambeds if it's found to be the cheapest and most convenient disposal option," said Secretary Salazar. "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."
The current rule replaced a rule that had been on the books since President Reagan instituted its predecessor in 1983. According to Salazar, the Reagan-era rule provided greater protection for communities and habitat by allowing the dumping of overburden within 100 feet of a perennial or intermittent stream only upon finding that such activities would "not adversely affect the water quantity or quality or other environmental resources of the stream." Two lawsuits were filed immediately after the recent rule was published.
If the court accepts the United States' request and vacates and remands the rule, the 1983 rule will continue to remain in force in all of the states that have delegated authority under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). (Only two states, Washington and Tennessee, do not have delegated authority under SMCRA.)