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Public Comments Sought as Administration Offers Rule to Ease the Way for Mountaintop Removal and Stream Destruction
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The Office of Surface Mining is accepting public comment on a Bush administration proposal to exempt mountaintop removal activities that are most destructive to streams from the “buffer zone rule,” a federal regulation which prohibits coal mining activities from disturbing “buffer” areas streams. (The comment period ends October 23.)

Surface mining, including mountaintop removal to get at coal beneath the surface, has destroyed more than a million acres of Appalachian forests, the most productive and diverse temperate hardwood forests in the world. Using the mountaintop removal method, mining companies in Appalachia have been blowing up entire mountaintops and hillsides to reach coal seams. After setting explosives in the mountain, the companies dump what is not coal (millions of tons of waste rock, dirt, and vegetation) into neighboring valleys and streams. This “valley fill” covers streams and aquatic habitat with piles of rubble hundreds of feet high, destroying entire surrounding ecosystem and causing flooding and pollution in neighboring communities.

The “buffer zone rule,” a federal regulation in effect since 1983, prohibits coal mining activities from disturbing areas within 100 feet of an intermittent or perennial stream, unless the water quality and quantity there would not be adversely impacted. For years, the U. S. Office of Surface Mining (OSM) has not been enforcing the buffer zone rule. Nearly 2000 miles of streams have been damaged or destroyed by mountaintop removal. According to the OSM’s own figures, 1,208 miles of streams in Appalachia were destroyed from 1992 to 2002, and between 2001 and 2005 regulators approved 1,603 more valley fills that have destroyed or will destroy 535 more miles of streams.

Rather than enforcing the buffer zone rule, on August 24, 2007 OSM proposed exempting from the rule the very mountaintop removal activities that are most destructive to streams, including dumping into “permanent excess spoil fills, and coal waste disposal facilities” (that is, giant valley fills and sludge-filled lagoons). The proposal would allow more than 1,000 miles of streams to be destroyed each decade after it goes into effect.1 According to Earthjustice, a non-profit public interest law firm, “This wholesale exemption for mountaintop removal mining will have significant impact to downstream water quality, permanently filling and destroying important headwaters that feed larger waters that function as drinking water sources and fishing and recreational waters for thousands of Americans.” 

Also on August 24, 2007, the Bush administration released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to go along with the proposed rule change. Federal law requires an EIS to  accompany a proposal and, here, requires the EIS to analyze alternatives to repealing the buffer zone rule. But this EIS does not even consider leaving the buffer zone rule in place. Joan Mulhern, Senior Legislative Counsel for Earthjustice, called OSM, for this and its past behavior, the “Office for Slicing Mountains” and “Office of Stream Mangling.”  

And once these streams are destroyed, they are probably gone forever. The OSM assumes all stream loss will be fully “mitigated,” even though it freely admits that stream mitigation has generally failed.

The OSM itself wrote, “While proven methods exist for larger stream channel restoration and creation, the state of the art in creating smaller headwater streams onsite has not reached the level of reproducible success…. Attempts to reestablish the functions of headwater streams…have achieved little success to date.”  Dianne Bady, of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said, “The coal companies have yet to show that they can successfully recreate streams after they completely destroy these mountains and bury these waters….”. 

The OSM is accepting public comment on this proposed rule change until October 23, 2007. Please take the opportunity to oppose this rule change. A sample comment is presented below, but you are encouraged to compose your own comment in response to this proposed gift to the coal industry as it continues to level the Appalachians.     

Comments can be submitted by U.S. mail or on the internet. If you comment by mail, address your letter to OSMRE
Administrative Record
Room 252 SIB

1951 Constitution Avenue, NW

Washington, DC   20240.

Please identify your comment by writing on it: RIN 1029-AC04.


To submit your comments via the internet:

1. Go to

2. Scroll down to Search Documents.
3. Under Optional Step 2, click on the drop-down box and scroll down to Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Reinforcement.

4. Click on that name to select it.
5. Click on Submit button which appears beneath “optional step 4.”
Results are displayed.
6. Click on the yellow comment icon shown for Document ID OSM-2007-0007-0001, Excess Spoil, Coal Mine Waste, and Buffers for Waters of the United States. The comment form will appear.

7. Enter your comments and click on Next Step to review your entries. Review your comment and click Submit.


Please do not let the “user unfriendliness” of this government site stop you from making a comment!    


This material was provided by The Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment (, Earthjustice ( and Public Justice ( For more information, see



1 To see the proposal, go to, and search for Document ID “OSM-2007-0007-0001.”


Excess Spoil, Coal Mine Waste, and Buffers for Waters of the United States:

Docket Number RIN 1029–AC04

Please do not weaken or eliminate the decades-old stream buffer zone rule. This rule, when enforced, is  important in preventing  coal mining wastes from causing further degradation and destruction of streams in Appalachia.  Thank you for considering my opinion.

> 2007 Table of Contents


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