Dept. of Interior Declares Existing Mountaintop Coal Removal Policy a "Major Misstep"

ken salazar photo

photo: Tami A. Heilemann/Department of the Interior

In another encouraging move by the Department of the Interior, Secretary Ken Salazar has said that the Bush administration ruling allowing mountaintop removal coal mining operations to dispose of waste in nearby streams was a "major misstep" and "bad public policy":As the Department of Justice has also found the rule to be legally defective—lawsuits by environmental groups challenged the ruling on a variety of grounds—Salazar has asked the DoJ to file a pleading in US District Court to vacate the ruling on "stream buffer zones."

Bush 2 Weakened Reagan Rule
The rule itself dates back to 1983 and allowed dumping of mining waste within 100 feet of a perennial or intermittent stream, provided that do so did not "adversely affect the water quantity or quality, or other environmental resources of the stream." For years mining companies found or created loopholes in the ruling allowing them to dump waste where they pleased.

The Bush administration loosened the rule to allow dumping in cases where other options for waste disposal were not "reasonably possible," which explicitly included allowing dumping in cases where it was simply more expensive to dispose of waste elsewhere.

Obama Admin Still Enthusiastic About Coal
That's all the good news. The less good news is that this doesn't actually stop the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining, still less enthusiasm for continued coal burning on the part of the Obama administration.

Immediately after saying that he wants the stream buffer zone ruling revoked, Salazar talked up the importance of coal in establishing greater US energy security. He cited a carbon capture and storage project in North Dakota as an example of technology the nation needs to develop and deploy.

There's Much More Wrong With Coal Than CO2
While I don't think carbon capture and storage research shouldn't continue—as fellow TreeHugger John Laumer says, perhaps we should actively pursue it, if only to show the financial aspects of CCS make large scale deployment of it prohibitively expensive—but I do feel that continued coal burning at any scale is an environmental disaster. Even capturing the emissions, and reigning in where waste can be dumped, doesn't address some of the truly horrendous environmental problems with mining and burning coal.

More: Department of Interior
Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
Majority of American Public Opposes Mountaintop Removal
EPA Acts on Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining: Stream and Wetland Protections Inadequate
It's On! EPA Objects to Permits for Three More Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Operations

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