FROM SCRATCH NEWSWIRE

SCAVENGING THE INTERNET

WHITE HOUSE SHIFT ON COAL-MINING RULES ANGERS ENVIRONMENTALISTS

Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on December 15, 2008

Published: December 3, 2008

by Robert Pear and Felicity Barringer

PUBLISHED BY ‘THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE’ (USA)

WASHINGTON: The White House has approved a final rule that will make it easier for coal companies to dump rock and dirt from mountaintop mining operations into nearby streams and valleys.

The rule is one of the most contentious of all the regulations emerging from the White House in President George W. Bush’s last weeks in office.

James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, confirmed in an interview Tuesday that the rule had been approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget. That clears the way for publication in the Federal Register, the last stage in the rule-making process.

Stephen Johnson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, concurred in the rule, first proposed nearly five years ago by the Interior Department, which regulates coal mining.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, dated Tuesday, Johnson said the rule had been revised to protect fish, wildlife and streams. Mining activities must comply with water quality standards established by the federal government and the states, Johnson said.

But a coalition of environmental groups said the rule would accelerate “the destruction of mountains, forests and streams throughout Appalachia.”

Edward Hopkins, a policy analyst at the Sierra Club, said: “The EPA’s own scientists have concluded that dumping mining waste into streams devastates downstream water quality.”

Bush has boasted of his efforts to cooperate with President-elect Barack Obama to ensure a smooth transition, but the administration is rushing to complete work on regulations to which Obama and his advisers object. The rules deal with air pollution, auto safety, abortion and workers’ exposure to toxic chemicals, among other issues.

The National Mining Association, a trade group, welcomed the rule, saying it could end years of uncertainty that had put jobs and production in jeopardy.

“This is unmistakably a fire sale of epic size for coal and the entire fossil fuel industry, with flagrant disregard for human health, the environment or the rule of law,” said Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to finish work on a rule that would make it easier for utilities to put coal-fired generating stations near national parks. It is working on another rule that would allow utility companies to modify coal-fired power plants and increase their emissions without installing new pollution-control equipment.

Joan Mulhern, a lawyer at Earthjustice, an environmental group, denounced the mining regulation.

“With less than two months left in power,” Mulhern said, “the Bush administration is determined to cement its legacy as having the worst environmental record in history.”

At issue, she said, is a type of mining in which “coal companies blast the tops off mountains to reach the seams of coal and then push the rubble into the adjacent valleys, burying miles of streams.”

Administration officials rejected the criticism.

“This rule strengthens protections for streams,” said Peter Mali, a spokesman for the Interior Department office that wrote the regulation. “Federal law allows coal mine waste to be placed in streams, and the rule tightens restrictions as to when, where and how those discharges can occur.”

Governor Steven Beshear of Kentucky and Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, both Democrats, had urged the Bush administration not to approve the rule. Beshear said he feared that it would lead to an increase in pollution of “Kentucky’s beautiful natural resources.”

CLICK HERE FOR THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE

PUBLISHED BY ‘THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE’ (USA)

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