- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A proposed federal stream protection drew criticism during a public hearing from miners and West Virginia officials who said it would devastate the state’s coal industry.

More than 100 people turned out for the U.S. Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation’s hearing on Thursday night at the Charleston Civic Center, multiple media outlets reported. Eighty-five people spoke against the proposal.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the rule is just the latest decision by the federal government placing more regulations on coal mining and coal-fired power plants. House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, echoed the governor’s comments.

“We simply cannot take another round of over-regulation from Washington,” Armstead said.

While recognizing that market forces have reduced West Virginia’s coal production, Tomblin said market forces “are manipulated by federal policy.”

Daile Boulis was among the speakers who support the proposed rule. Boulis, who lives next to a surface mine near Kanawha State Forest, said she recognized the need for the rule to come from the federal level.

“Our state officials have been co-opted by the fossil fuel industry,” she said.

Other supporters said OSM should go further to protect waterways.

The federal agency has said the proposed rule overhauls a set of regulations that are three decades old.

Under the proposal, coal companies would be required to avoid mining practices that destroy drinking water sources, permanently pollute streams, threaten forests and increase flood risk.

Companies also would be required to restore streams and return mined areas to their previous uses and form.

“Our mission, my statute is to meet the nation’s energy demand for coal in an environmentally sound manner, and that’s really what this proposed rulemaking is trying to do,” Thomas Shope, regional director for OSM’s Appalachian Region, told WCHS-TV (http://bit.ly/1KVxpGc ) outside the hearing.

The agency already held similar hearings in Denver, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Lexington, Kentucky.

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