This past August, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) proposed a drastic change to rules for mountaintop mining in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement “Excess Spoil Minimization/Stream Buffer Zones.” The law currently states that land within 100 feet of a stream cannot be disturbed by mining unless a company can prove it will not adversely affect the water quality and quantity of the stream. However, under the new rule, companies would be allowed to conduct activities within that zone, including depositing material directly in streams, provided they mitigate the damage afterwards.

Thirty-six eminent stream scientists and the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO), the world’s largest professional society for aquatic sciences, disagree with the revised rule that OSMRE claims will “reduce the environmental impacts of surface coal mining.” In letters to the agency, the scientists and ASLO say that the Draft EIS is “fundamentally flawed” and “should be withdrawn and completely revised.”

The scientists express serious concerns that the conclusions of the EIS – namely, that allowing variances to the buffer zone rule would be “impact neutral” – are based on poor or non-existent data. The scientists argue that this claim in the EIS is particularly egregious considering “the overwhelming scientific evidence is that riparian buffer zones consisting of native vegetation communities are the best method for stream protection from disturbances upslope such as mining or logging.” Additionally, the scientists criticize OSMRE for consulting neither a stream ecologist nor an aquatic ecologist in preparing the Draft EIS, and offer their assistance to work with the agency in the future.

The OSMRE has received more than two thousand comments on the draft EIS. The agency extended the original 60-day comment period by 30 days for a close date of 23 November 2007. Further information regarding the rule, including the ability to submit comments, can be accessed at http://www.osmre.gov/.

 


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