Salazar Moves to Reverse 11th Hour Stream Buffer Zone Rule | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Salazar Moves to Reverse 11th Hour Stream Buffer Zone Rule

Coalfield residents are applauding an announcement today by the U.S. Department of Interior that it will attempt to vacate a last-minute Bush administration rule change that encouraged coal companies to dispose of their waste in streams.

The Stream Buffer Zone (SBZ) rule had been in place since 1983 and prohibited the impacts of coal mining from coming within 100 feet of a stream. But the change pushed through in December by the outgoing administration eliminated those controls if companies mined in the stream.

"It's a great day for the fragile ecosystem of the Appalachians as well as the quality of life for the people who live here," said Todd Bailey, a resident of Hueysville in Floyd County and member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said that he has determined the Bush administration action to be "legally defective" and would direct the Justice Department to ask the U.S. District Court to vacate the rule due to this deficiency.

"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 natural habitat and the species it support," Salazar said.

"We hope that this announcement leads to the full and fair enforcement of the law," a statement issued by KFTC read, calling this an important first step. "It's not too much to ask that a law in place since 1983 be enforced."

Elmer Lloyd of Cumberland (Harlan County) also welcomed the announcement — if there will be enforcement behind it.

"This is a very good thing. They sure need some laws on the books where they can control this a little better," said Lloyd who had a private pond destroyed because of the dumping of mining waste behind his home. "If they get the inspectors to follow up on it they might save a little of this country. It shouldn't be hard to do something right."

KFTC said that it was encouraged that four of Kentucky's elected leaders — Gov. Steve Beshear, U.S. Reps. Ben Chandler and John Yarmuth, and Attorney General Jack Conway — took the bold step last fall of publicly opposing the Bush administration proposal to weaken the stream buffer zone.

As expected, the coal industry predicted all manner of dire consequences if they are made to obey the law. State Rep. Hubert Collins told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the action would raise the price of coal and spell economic disaster in Eastern Kentucky.

At least 1,400 miles of Kentucky streams and 35,000 acres of diverse hardwood forest have been destroyed of severely damaged from valley fills resulting from mountaintop removal and the failure of state and federal agencies to enforce the stream buffer zone and other mining laws.

Salazar said his agency intends to gather public comment "on how we can update and improve the Reagan-era rule. It is important that we ensure that SMCRA [Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act] requirements are coordinated with Clean Water Act obligations that are administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency."

"There is hope and optimism in the mountains and beyond today," said Pam Maggard, a Knott County KFTC member. "Secretary Salazar has taken a first step to restore, to protect, and to enforce the stream buffer zone."

Background and Media Coverage

Issue Area(s): 

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.