Until now, surface miners had to protect nearby streams with a 100-foot buffer zone. The new rule directs mining companies to protect water quality and wildlife to the extent possible. But it also will allow mining through streams as well as the placing of mining debris in those streams. Environmental organizations and some residents of Appalachia have opposed the rule change. Earth Justice lawyer Joan Mulhern says a legal challenge to the rule is possible.
“I believe that Earth Justice and our allies will leave no stone unturned to get it overturned, whether that’s going through the courts, or through congress, or the next administration. We will be knocking on every door,” says Mulhern.
The mining industry claims it restores or diverts streams once they’ve finished mining. But the EPA has documented more than 700 miles of streams that have been, and remain, buried by debris in Appalachia alone.