U.S. Interior Dept finalizes rule to protect waterways from coal mining

The U.S. Interior Department on Dec. 19, 2016 finalized a contentious rule to protect streams and forests from the impact of coal mining, one of the Obama administration’s last major environmental regulations that the incoming Trump administration is likely to target.

The Stream Protection Rule, which the coal industry strongly opposes, updates 33-year-old regulations with stronger requirements for responsible surface coal mining. The Interior Department says the rule will protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests over the next two decades.

“This updated, scientifically modern rule will make life better for a countless number of Americans who live near places where coal is being mined,” said Joseph Pizarchik, director of the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which crafted the rule. Pizarchik said his office received over 150,000 public comments on the proposal.

The Stream Protection rule requires companies to avoid mining practices that could pollute streams and drinking water sources, restore streams, and promise to return mined areas to their original form. It also requires mining companies to replant these areas with native trees and vegetation in certain cases.

The rule also requires testing and monitoring of streams near coal mines before, during and after drilling to ensure that miners can detect increased levels of pollution.

Industry groups like the National Mining Association have been vocal opponents of the proposal, saying it places too much of a burden on mining companies.

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