Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hundreds voice opposition to proposed strip-mining rule change at four public hearings

When the Bush administration announced in August a proposal that could ease mountaintop-removal strip mining for coal, opinions were not lacking. Last night, hundreds of people showed up to oppose the proposal at four public hearings held by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in Charleston, W.Va., Hazard, Ky., Knoxville, Tenn., and Washington, Pa. Environmentalists staged protests outside the meetings, with people holding signs or even acting out skits in some locations.

OSM scheduled the hearings to allow public comment about its proposal to reduce the 100-foot buffer around streams that for the last 25 years had generally prohibited mining or the dumping of mining materials in that zone, reports Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette. OSM contends that the rule change would have little impact on streams, but environmentalists and others fear it will speed mountaintop removal and cause damage to waterways and water quality.

In Charleston, more than 250 people created a standing-room-only crowd at a local hotel, and more than 100 were mining supporters, Ward reports. Before the meeting, about two dozen protesters (above, in Gazette photo by Kenny Kemp) stood outside holding signs that read, "Pull the rule -- protect our water." Coal supporters argued that the rule change would end "wasteful litigation" that has slowed energy production, Ward writes. (Read more)

In Hazard, about two dozen people from around Kentucky spoke, with "nearly all" speakers opposing the proposal, reports Cassandra Kirby of the Lexington Herald-Leader. There were also many who wore "Friends of Coal" stickers or heir mining uniforms to show their support of the proposal. (Read more)

In Knoxville, University of Tennessee students, environmental groups and an Oak Ridge scientist turned out to opposed the rule, reports Brad Williams of the Knoxville News-Sentinel. Almost 200 people came to the event in an auditorium designed to hold 140. Outside, more than 200 members of the group Save Our Cumberland Mountains handed out pamphlets and pins, and other groups staged a skit with a vampire sucking life from an area mountain. (Read more)

In Pennsylvania, all but one of the 25 speakers opposed the rule change, reports Don Hopey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Our streams were never intended to become landfills," said Lisa Smith, a consulting ecologist and president of the Mountain Watershed Association board of directors. The one speaker supporting the proposed rule was Larry Emerson of Pennsylvania Services Corp., which operates two mines in the area. He said the change would end the uncertainty caused by recent court decisions about such mining which has occurred despite the existing rule. (Read more)

The public comment period for the rule change continues until Nov. 23. So far, OSM has received about 2,300 comments. To submit a comment online, Identify the comments by including docket number 1029-AC04 in the subject line.

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