Obama moves to tighten rule for mountaintop mining

The Obama administration is moving to tighten a coal mining rule loosened by his predecessor, but it might not be enough to satisfy environmentalists.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday that the 11th-hour "stream buffer zone rule" issued by the Bush administration in December is defective. Salazar said he would ask a federal court in Washington to reinstitute a 1983 Reagan-era rule.

The 1983 rule prohibited dumping of fill from mountaintop removal mining within 100 feet of a stream. Environmentalists argue, however, that it was not properly enforced, allowing hundreds of miles of Appalachian streams to be buried or diverted.

The Bush rule said mining waste could be placed near streams if the alternative was considerably more expensive.

"We must responsibly develop our coal supplies to help us achieve energy independence, but we cannot do so without appropriately assessing the impact such development might have on local communities and the natural habitat and the species it supports," Salazar said.

Joan Mulhern of the environmental group Earthjustice said returning to the old rule would be meaningless unless accompanied by a commitment to enforce the law.

"The history of the stream buffer zone rule is that it hasn't been enforced," Mulhern said. "This gets us nowhere if the stream zone buffer is not enforced to prohibit mountaintop removal and valley fills."


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