OSM Proposes Stream Protection Rule
On July 16, 2015, the Department of Interior, Federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (“OSM”) released a proposed regulation to prevent or minimize impacts to surface water and groundwater from surface coal mining. The proposed rule, known as the Stream Protection Rule, replaces the controversial Bush era Stream Buffer Zone rule which was the subject of litigation and overturned by the courts in 2014. Development of the Stream Protection Rule has taken years and has been the subject of much controversy and criticism. OSM claims that the new rule will better protect streams, fish, wildlife and the environment from the adverse impacts of surface coal mining and the surface effects of underground mining. The proposed rule is intended to clearly define the phrase “material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area” and calls for, among other requirements, the collection of pre-mining data and the imposition of additional monitoring and restoration requirements. According to OSM, the proposed rule is intended to update its regulations to reflect best available science and experience over the last thirty years. Industry strongly criticizes the rule as another burdensome and costly regulation which is unnecessary in view of the substantial regulations already in place as enforced by both federal and state regulatory authorities. Public hearings on the proposed rule will be held within the 60 day public comment period in Charleston, Lexington, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Denver. An advanced copy of the proposed rule is available on OSM’s website along with a Draft Environmental Impact Statement.