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White House Guts Stream Protections Near Mining Operations

In a last-minute genuflection to the mining industry, the Bush administration yesterday finalized its contentious plan to lift restrictions on mine-debris disposal, allowing companies to fill valleys and streams with the waste from their operations.

The change is of particular threat to Appalachia, where coal miners have adopted the practice of blasting the tops off of mountains to reach the coal seams within — a process that produces enormous amounts of waste, or “overburden,” that needs disposing.

A 1983 Interior Dept. rule, called the “stream buffer zone rule,” prohibits disposal within 100 feet of live streams — a restriction requiring companies to truck the waste elsewhere. But the mining industry has long-pushed for explicit allowances to dump the debris in adjacent valleys, even if that means burying streams.

The new rule does just that, asking only that companies explain why dumping in streams is unavoidable, and to minimize the environmental impact “to the extent practicable” — like asking for abstinence from a rabbit.

In a statement that can be described only as Orwellian, Interior Dept. spokesman Peter L. Mali told The New York Times that “the rule strengthens protections for streams.”

Federal law allows coal mine waste to be placed in streams, and the rule tightens restrictions as to when, where and how those discharges can occur.

An environmental impact statement accompanying the new rule indicates that 724 miles of Appalachian streams were “directly impacted” by mining between 1985 and 2001. At that rate, another 724 miles would be affected by 2018, the report said.

Stephen L. Johnson — who has used his post atop the Environmental Protection Agency to do everything but — approved the new rule, telling The Times that, “Americans should not have to choose between clean coal or effective environmental protection.”

(Huh?)

Anyone else singing bars of “Don’t know what you got til it’s gone?”

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