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Department of the Interior Finalizes Stream Protection Rule for Coal Mining Industry

Today the Department of the Interior (Department), announced that it has finalized regulations that it has been working on since 2009,[1] which aim to “protect streams, fish, wildlife, and related environmental values from the adverse impacts of surface coal mining operations and provide mine operators with a regulatory framework to avoid water pollution and the long-term costs associated with water treatment”[2] by overhauling 30-year-old regulations.  Highlights include:

  • requiring companies that have completed mining in an area to restore the area to uses it was capable of supporting prior to mining;
  • requiring companies to test and monitor the ongoing condition of potentially affected streams;
  • requiring companies to avoid practices that permanently pollute streams or destroy drinking water sources.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, stated that “[t]he responsible rule released today represents a modern and balanced approach to meeting the nation’s energy needs” and that “[r]egulations need to keep pace with modern mining practices, so we worked closely with many stakeholders to craft a plan that protects water quality, supports economic opportunities, safeguards our environment and makes coalfield communities more resilient for a diversified economic future.”[3]

The National Mining Association opposes the rule, describing it as disregarding states’ authority, creating confusion around already established regulations, harming U.S. jobs, and blocking access to coal.[4]

The regulations will go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, with a likely effective date of January 19, 2017, only one day before the new administration takes office.  The National Mining Association has requested that Congress disapprove the regulation via a Congressional Review Act resolution.[5]  Various sources report that Congress could overturn the regulations, president-elect Trump opposes the regulations, and the future Interior Department could undo them.[6]

The regulations are available here.

[1] U.S. Department of the Interior, Interior Department Finalizes Stream Protection Rule to Safeguard Communities from Coal Mining Impacts, available at (Dec. 19, 2016).

[2] Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Building a Stream Protection Rule, available at (Dec. 19, 2016).

[3] Supra note 1.

[4] National Mining Association, NMA Strongly Opposes Interior Department’s Duplicative Stream Rule, available at (Dec. 19, 2016).

[5] Id.

[6] See, e.g., Amy Harder, Rule Tightens Restrictions on Coal Mining Near Streams, The Wall Street Journal, available at (Dec. 19, 2016); Ari Natter, Obama Sets Up Water Clash With Mining Rule Trump Opposes, Bloomberg, available at (Dec. 19, 2016).

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