The Obama administration imposed new limits today on coal mining near waterways.
The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement spent nearly the entire Obama presidency working on the Stream Protection Rule, its rewrite of the Stream Buffer Zone Rule from the George W. Bush administration.
The new guidelines stringently define "material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area" that the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act — the guiding law of OSMRE — is designed to prevent.
The stream rule mandates states, SMCRA's primary regulators, to require additional data gathering and monitoring at and around mine sites. It also imposes new financial assurance and reclamation requirements.
OSMRE leaders have said that substantial technological advances in the decades since Congress passed SMCRA forced the need for new oversight procedures.
Industry has sharply criticized the science and justification for the rulemaking, arguing it is a drastic overreach of OSMRE authority that encroaches on the jurisdiction of other federal laws.
Environmentalists say the rule does not go far enough, but coal mining states are nearly unified in blasting OSMRE's handling of the rulemaking.
Most states have withdrawn from cooperative agreements to work on the rule with OSMRE over complaints of being kept in the dark.
Congressional Republicans are already planning to strike down the new coal mining standards via the Congressional Review Act.
Because a federal judge vacated the Bush-era rule, the law of the land would be the original 1983 Stream Buffer Zone Rule (Greenwire, July 10).