Friday, March 7, 2008

Here is an excerpt on the proposed voluntary community service program that many are asking our next president to support. As an AmeriCorps Alum, I agree wholeheartedly and hope you will all support this initiative.

"The time has come for a bold program of national service that challenges every American to strengthen our nation through service, and that invests in our young people. Service should be both an expectation and a rite of passage for every citizen, and in turn, the nation should offer access to the American dream to all who serve. We need the equivalent of a GI Bill for the 21st century, but one that rewards many forms of service beyond the military.

Our goal is no less than to make national service a defining element of American democracy. Universal national service can achieve what many programs and initiatives have failed to do: Capture the imagination and spirit of the American people by asking them to put their hearts and hands to work for the benefit of our nation. What better way to show the whole world the true potential of our American community of liberty? What better way to lead the greatest mass democracy in history into an even more celebrated future?"
Full Text

Thursday, February 14, 2008

MTR Part VI: Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

The RCRA deals with waste disposal. Although there is little to be found on the subject as it relates to MTR, mine overburden is, by definition, solid waste.
The term “solid waste” means any garbage, refuse, sludge from a waste treatment plant, water supply treatment plant or air pollution control facility and other discarded material, including solid, liquid, semisolid, or contained gaseous materials resulting from industrial, commercial, mining and agriculture activities and from community activities, ….etc. [Even though considered solid waste,] mining overburden and wastes from extraction, beneficiation, and processing of ores and minerals, including coal are not considered to be hazardous waste.” (Bell C. L., 2007)
Therefore, mine operators do not have to comply with hazardous waste disposal requirements.

Update on the Stream Buffer Zone Rule

Although I am not totally in agreement on the interpretation of the Stream Buffer Zone Rule and proposed changes, I am wholely against the destructive practice of mountaintop removal. Apparently I am not alone, as evidenced by the overwhelming response during the comment period. See this article for the complete update.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Abandoned Mine Posts

I just wanted encourage all my readers to check out the latest Abandoned Mine Posts about the history of coal. It is very informative and interesting.

Friday, January 25, 2008

MTR Part V: Controversy about the proposed change

Controversy Ensues
As is to be expected with any hot button issue, opinions vary and opposition is fierce. Here are just a few examples:
Opponents’ opinions
“OSM proposes to change the rule to conform with its deviant behavior rather than requiring the coal industry to comply with the law.” (Lyric, 2007)
“It would exempt from the stream buffer zone rule those very mountaintop removal activities that are most destructive to streams, including “permanent excess spoil fills, and coal waste disposal facilities” — in other words, giant valley fills and sludge-filled lagoons.” (Lyric, 2007)
"What they are doing is, they are sacrificing Kentucky to the coal-mining powers," said Patty Wallace of Louisa, who is active with the group Kentuckians For the Commonwealth.” (Bruggers & Dunlop, 2007)
Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said yesterday that OSM has mischaracterized both the state of existing law and the impact of its proposed rule. "It's irresponsible from an ecological standpoint," FitzGerald said of the rule change sought by OSM. "It caters to worst mine plans rather than best practices, and it will further fuel outrage of people in the coalfields, in the scientific community and those who rely on coal-fired power and are tired of seeing coal mined in such an irresponsible manner." (Bruggers & Dunlop, 2007)
Supporters say
Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, an industry group, said the proposed rule “merely continues the status quo. I don't see things changing at all. This rule simply recognizes existing practice." (Bruggers & Dunlop, 2007)
Ben Owens, an OSM spokesman, contended that the new rule "would not legalize anything that was not legal before." (Bruggers & Dunlop, 2007)
Courts rule
“The original rule was upheld by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned a lower court decision holding that substantial portions of streams could not be buried under excess spoil or other mining-related structures.” (Bruggers & Dunlop, 2007)
“In October 1999, the Federal District Court ruled that the SBZ rule prohibits valley fills in streams and held that the Stream Buffer Zone Rule is more stringent than the Clean Water Act 404(b)(1) guidelines on placing fill into streams. There is concern such an interpretation of the SBZ rule makes it inconsistent with SMCRA.” (Mining, 2007)
“In April 2001, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the Oct 1999 decision on constitutional grounds (11th Amendment).” (Mining, 2007)
“In May 2002, in Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Inc. v Rivenburgh, the district court held that SMCRA did not authorize the disposal of overburden in streams.” (Mining, 2007)
“In February 2003, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in KFTC v. Rivenburgh, stated that SMCRA at 515(b)(22)(D) envisions that overburden would be placed in waters of the U.S. and reversed the May 2002 District Court decision.” (Mining, 2007)
Resulting confusion
It becomes more and more obvious that not only is the rule unclear, but SMCRA contains a great deal of ambiguity regarding the practices of mountaintop removal. I find it difficult to imagine that OSM truly believes that valley fills, which in effect destroy headwaters streams, constitute a minimization of adverse impacts. However, it seems that the problem lay not in the SBZ rule but in the interpretation of SMCRA and other relevant laws.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

MTR Part IV: Controversial proposed change to Stream Buffer Zone by OSM

The current administration recently proposed a controversial change in the SBZ rule. It sounds as though they plan to implement a new regulation to exempt certain coal mining activities from the Stream Buffer Zone Rule. As mentioned before, there is some confusing wording in the SBZ rule and as a consequence, it would be reworded to more accurately reflect the wording of SMCRA. I have examined the part of SMCRA that the SBZ rule is derived from and don’t find the change to be significant. As repugnant as I and others may find the practice of MTR, valley fills and the like, the change seems only to put into clearer terms what is already legal according to SMCRA.

Bush Administration’s Proposed New Rule (3/21/02 Draft)
§ 816.57 Hydrologic balance: Stream buffer zones.
(a) General. You must first obtain specific approval from the regulatory authority before conducting surface mining activities within 100 feet of a perennial or intermittent stream. Except as provided in paragraph (b), the regulatory authority may authorize such activities only after making a written finding that the activities will—
(1) Not cause or contribute to a violation of applicable State or Federal water quality standards.
(2) Be conducted to minimize disturbances to the quantity and quality of water in the stream. This finding need not be made with respect to any reach of the stream that is upstream of a sedimentation pond located within the stream channel; provided that the pond meets the location requirements of § 816.46(c)(1)(ii) of this part.
(3) Be conducted in a manner that minimizes disturbances and adverse impacts to fish, wildlife, and related environmental values of the stream.
(b) Placement of excess spoil in perennial or intermittent streams. The findings required in paragraphs (a)(1)-(3) do not apply to the construction of excess spoil fills in perennial or intermittent streams. To approve construction of fills in these streams, the regulatory authority must find that the applicant has—
(1) Minimized the creation of excess spoil to the maximum extent practicable as required under § 780.18(b)(3) of this chapter and § 816.102(b) of this part; and
(2) Designed the fill to avoid or minimize adverse impacts to perennial or intermittent streams to the extent required under §780.16(c) of this chapter and § 816.97(f) of this part.
(Mountains, 2007)

“The agency is proposing to fully implement the requirements established by Congress, and water from strip-mined areas still must meet state and federal water-quality standards," OSM contends. (Bruggers & Dunlop, 2007) The Office of Surface Mining points out that this proposal is a revision that will clarify existing requirements for mining in and around streams. They say that this is an effort aimed at achieving regulatory stability in Appalachia. (Owens, 2007)
OSM admits that valley fills disturb streams, but they must work within the bounds of SMCRA. It is their contention that this change will not have any noticeable impact on the way things are done in Appalachia.
Under the current stream buffer zone regulation, the length of streams permanently or temporarily directly impacted will be considerable. Approximately 535 miles of intermittent and perennial streams will be temporarily or permanently affected nationwide just from surface coal mining operations permitted from October 1, 2001 to June 30, 2005. We do not anticipate that revision of the stream buffer zone as described in the alternatives would cause additional stream disturbance as compared to the “No Action” alternative. (Enforcement, Environmental Impact Statement, 2007)

It is interesting to note that OSM did consider several alternatives, one of which would have amended the rule to prohibit any mining activity within the 100ft buffer zone. They discarded this alternative early on in the process, saying it would not be consistent with SMCRA regulations because it would significantly impact coal extraction activities, citing the following: “[OSM must]…assure that the coal supply essential to the Nation’s energy requirements, and to its economic and social well-being, is provided and strike a balance between protection of the environment and . . . the Nation’s need for coal as an essential source of energy.” (Enforcement, Environmental Impact Statement, 2007)

Hope and Hard Work Trainings


Greetings! The Eastern Coal Regional Round Table is seeking determined
citizens' groups or organizations that are concerned with cleaning up
their local watershed, improving their community and learning how to
find the money to make improvement possible. The ECRR is offering the
opportunity to participate in a three-part training program called Hope
and Hard Work.

Spring training sessions will occur during March 26th-28th at Canaan
Valley Resort for Northern Coalfields groups and April 9th-11th at
Breaks Interstate Park for groups from the Southern Coalfields. The
ECRR will cover participants' lodging, food, and registration expenses.

Each attending group representative will participate in one of two
course tracks; water quality monitoring and fiscal sustainability. The
water quality monitoring track will teach groups how to effectively
monitor acid mine drainage (AMD) and wastewater contamination and how to
use this data to obtain funding to implement cleanup projects. The
fiscal sustainability track will focus on obtaining funds to build the
size, effectiveness, and capacity of your group or organization. A
topic based agenda can be found on the next page.

Two representatives from each group must commit to all three sessions -
the spring training, the summer practicum and the fall training.

We hope that you will join us in embarking on this exciting project to
restore Appalachia's watershed communities! If your group is interested
in this opportunity for free training focused specifically on the
coal-impacted counties of Appalachia, please contact us by email or by phone at 304.329.8409. If you know of other groups that may be interested in
participating, feel free to pass along this information!

We look forward to building new partnerships with you that will
strengthen and expand on the good work of groups like yours in Coal

Sincerely yours,

Sarah Walters

Eastern Coal Regional Roundtable
119 S. Prince Street, Suite 209
Kingwood, WV 26537