- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Obama administration put the coal industry in its crosshairs yet again Thursday with new regulations limiting mining near streams and requiring companies to monitor water quality, plant trees and vegetation after operations are complete, and take other steps to protect the environment.

In the proposed rule, the Interior Department argues more federal oversight is necessary to protect surface and ground water and to ensure the landscape is returned to its pre-mining state.

But Republicans in Congress and coal advocates argue the regulations — which are likely to be finalized next year — are unnecessary, take power away from states and represent another blatant attack on an already beleaguered industry. Critics also warn the rules will raise the cost of coal-mining operations in parts of the country.

Specifically, the latest proposal will require coal companies to test and monitor the condition of streams that “their mining might impact before, during and after their operations.” Companies then will be required to ensure waterways are returned to the condition they were in before mining began.

The regulations also call on coal companies to return streams and land around mining operations to their previous condition. If necessary, companies will be required to plant trees and vegetation after mining concludes, the Interior Department said.

The administration says the rules, which would replace federal standards that haven’t been updated since 1983, would protect about 6,500 miles of streams nationwide.

SEE ALSO: Obama admin turns deaf ear to coal industry, ignores pleas to protect Colo. mine

“This proposed rule would accomplish what Americans expect from their government — a modern and balanced approach to energy development that safeguards our environment, protects water quality, supports the energy needs of the nation, and makes coalfield communities more resilient for a diversified economic future,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. “We are committed to working with coalfield communities as we support economic activity while minimizing the impact coal production has on the environment that our children and grandchildren will inherit.”

The regulations are the latest in a string of rules aimed directly at the coal industry. The most damaging rule will be issued next month when the Environmental Protection Agency finalizes plans to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The host of federal regulations, in conjunction with the rise of abundant, cheap natural gas, has left the U.S. coal industry with an uncertain future as companies slash jobs and a growing number of power plants close up shop.

Republicans say the Interior Department’s newest proposal is even more evidence that the White House wants to muscle coal out of the U.S. energy mix, even though the fuel still accounts for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s electricity.

“The Obama Administration has proven to be the bully regulation machine once again,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. “The administration has shamelessly sidelined the states in their secret development of the rule. Nine out of 10 states have rejected the dog and pony show of inclusion [the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining] has put forward. I am afraid that their concerns with the impacts of the rule on Americans will be cast aside. Clearly, the Obama administration will stop at nothing to stomp out American livelihoods dependent on coal.”

Coal leaders argue the industry already has gone to great lengths to protect waterways, forests and other sensitive areas around mining sites. They say the federal regulations add another layer of unnecessary red tape and cost.

“This is a rule in search of a problem,” said Hal Quinn, CEO of the National Mining Association. “It has nothing to do with new science and everything to do with an old and troubling agenda for separating more coal miners from their jobs. The agency’s own reports on existing state regulatory programs show the vast majority of mine sites are free of any offsite impacts, and the agency has produced no evidence to justify more regulations, let alone redundant ones that interfere with state agencies mining and water quality laws.”



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