WASHINGTON – The Obama administration proposed new regulations Thursday designed to reduce the environmental impact of coal mining on the nation's streams, a long-anticipated move that met quick resistance from Republicans, even as the administration projected only modest job losses in coal country.
Current federal regulations designed to protect streams near coal mines date to 1983. The proposed rule would maintain a buffer zone that prevents coal mining from within 100 feet of streams to prevent debris from being dumped into the water. But the proposal also sets clearer guidelines for companies to follow when exceptions to the 100-foot buffer occur.
The Interior Department said it would ensure that mountains are restored to mountains once mining is completed. Secretary Sally Jewell described the regulation as a balanced approach to energy development that also safeguards the environment. In all, she projected that about 200 jobs would be lost if the regulation goes into effect as proposed. Officials also projected that electricity costs would only go up one-tenth of 1 percent.
"We recognize the importance of coal mining to many communities," Jewell said in a conference call.
Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill quickly assailed the proposed regulation as designed to help put coal companies out of business; they promised to thwart it.
"Clearly, the Obama administration will stop at nothing to stomp out American livelihoods dependent on coal," said Rep. Rob Bishop, GOP chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources.
The Interior Department said the proposed rule would require companies to restore streams and return mined areas to a condition capable of supporting the land uses available before mining.
The biggest impact will be in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.