Thursday, August 23, 2007
The controversial practice of “mountaintop removal” coal mining might become more common under a regulation expected to be issued tomorrow, in proposed form, by the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. (Here’s a Summary of the Environmental Impact Statement.) This form of mining involves the blasting away the top of a mountain to get at the valuable minerals. The spoil from the mining then typically is dumped in nearby valleys It is this fill –- which sometimes buries streams and affects water systems for miles downstream –- that causes the most environmental damage.
Like many regulatory matters, the story has a complicated history. The planned regulation would clarify an existing rule called the Stream Buffer Zone Rule that limits mining immediately adjacent to streams but allows some filling in with spoil. Public opposition to such land-disturbing practices might be ameliorated, in light of the recent deaths and publicity from shaft mining, which is riskier for miners but less intrusive to the environment. Mining operators say that they need to be able to fill in valleys with spoil to make mountaintop mining feasible; advocates asserts that the economies of states such as West Virginia need to continue the practice to stay competitive.