Release Date: 
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Press Contact: 
Doug Doerrfeld
KFTC member
606-784-9226

Groups Ask Court To Strike Rule That Lets Coal Companies Dump in Streams
Action demands Interior Department to reinstate “Stream Buffer Zone” safeguard

Additional Contact

Liz Judge
Earthjustice
415.217.2007

Background

Some facts about the dumping of mining wastes in streams.

  • more than 1,400 miles of streams in Kentucky have been eliminated (buried under millions of tons of waste) or severely damaged by the dumping of mining wastes into valleys (figure  compiled from the reports of several federal agencies);
  • stopping these valley fills, or significantly restricting their size, would have a negligible effect on the cost of electricity  (U.S. EPA based on the findings of economic consultants);
  • selenium, a carcinogen, has been found only in those Appalachian streams below valley fills (U.S. EPA)
  • sedimentation, largely from mining, is by far the worst pollutant in most eastern Kentucky streams (Ky. Division of Water, research by Eastern Kentucky University and other studies);
  • Reconstructed channels do not come close to replacing the vital ecological functions of natural headwater streams, services that include water quality, flood control and providing nutrients for downstream aquatic life (U.S. EPA, Dr. Margaret Palmer, a stream restoration expert; Dr. Nathaniel Hitt, researcher at Virginia Tech University).

Today a broad coalition of citizen and environmental groups asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to reverse a Department of Interior rule that removed a key protection for streams against mountaintop removal and other large-scale surface coal mining – a 100-foot buffer zone around valuable streams in which harmful mining activities are not allowed.

The Bush administration removed this protection through a midnight rule-making in 2008, and the Obama administration agreed the Bush administration’s action was unlawful and they would reverse the action. But the Interior Department has since failed to undo the Bush administration’s rule-making by the deadline it agreed to.

In a motion filed by Earthjustice, the groups are asking the court to do what the Obama administration has not: strike down the illegal Bush rule and reinstate buffers to protect vital streams from surface mining. Based on EPA estimates, mountaintop removal mining has destroyed or harmed 2,400 miles of Appalachian streams to date.

“We are coming up on the five-year anniversary of the removal of this key protection, and Appalachian communities and families continue to suffer from the extreme pollution and destruction of mountaintop removal mining," said Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Chavez. "The disastrous 2008 Bush rule needs to be scrapped without further delay. Basic protections for waterways and families cannot continue to wait while the Obama administration drags its feet.”

Earthjustice, along with Appalachian Citizens' Law Center and Appalachian Mountain Advocates, are representing the Sierra Club, the Waterkeeper Alliance, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Coal River Mountain Watch, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment and KFTC.

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