Interior Department Finalizes Stream Protection Rule to Safeguard Communities from Coal Mining Impacts

Updates 33-year old regulations, provides protections for communities and environment, while setting expectations for responsible mining

Last edited 09/29/2021

Date: December 19, 2016
Chris Holmes (OSMRE) 202-208-7941

WASHINGTON — After an extensive and transparent public process that spanned multiple years, the U.S. Department of the Interior today released final regulations to prevent or minimize impacts to surface water and groundwater from coal mining. The final rule updates 33-year old regulations and establishes clear requirements for responsible surface coal mining that will protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests over the next two decades, preserving community health and economic opportunities while meeting the nation’s energy needs.

“The responsible rule released today represents a modern and balanced approach to meeting the nation’s energy needs,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.  “Regulations need to keep pace with modern mining practices, so we worked closely with many stakeholders to craft a plan that protects water quality, supports economic opportunities, safeguards our environment and makes coalfield communities more resilient for a diversified economic future.”
Developed by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), the Stream Protection Rule includes reasonable and straightforward reforms to revise three-decades-old regulations for coal mining in order to avoid or minimize impacts on surface water, groundwater, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources.  The rule incorporates current science, technology, and modern mining practices to safeguard communities from the long-term effects of pollution and environmental degradation that endanger public health and undermine future economic opportunities for affected communities.

“This rule takes into account the extensive and substantive comments we received from state regulators, mining companies and local communities across the country,” said Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider. “We traveled the country, visited many mines, and met with many of the people who work and live in coal country to make sure we wrote the best rule possible – one that is both economically achievable and protective.” 

Guided by the best-available science and utilizing modern technologies, the final rule would require companies to avoid mining practices that permanently pollute streams, destroy drinking water sources, increase flood risk, and threaten forests.  It would also require companies to restore streams and return mined areas to the uses they were capable of supporting prior to mining activities, and replant these areas with native trees and vegetation, unless that would conflict with the implemented land use.  

To help companies meet these objectives, the rule requires the testing and monitoring of the condition of streams that might be affected by mining – before, during and after their operations – to provide baseline data that ensures operators can detect and correct problems that could arise, and restore mined areas to their previous condition. 

Through clear, measurable standards, the rule promotes operational accountability to achieve the environmental restoration required when mining operations were permitted. Economic impacts were thoroughly analyzed and the final rule is projected to have a negligible impact on the coal industry overall.

Since announcing its intention to write a rule to clarify mining in and around streams in 2009, OSMRE received more than 150,000 written comments and statements from 15 open houses and public meetings, and extensive outreach efforts with stakeholders nationwide. 

“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 OSMRE Director Joseph Pizarchik. “We are closing loopholes and improving our rules to more completely implement the law passed by Congress.” 

The final Stream Protection Rule, which will take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, is available on the OSMRE website.

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