The hearing in the St. Louis area was one of six scheduled for public comments on the agency’s proposed Stream Protection Rule (SPR), the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that supports the proposed rule, and the Regulatory Impact Analysis that provides analysis of each alternative considered.
Prior to the meeting, OSM announced it would grant an extension from the end of September to October 26, but coal operators said that was still not enough time to review the policy. Over the past six years, OSM has been working to rewrite the laws that govern how coal mines operate. In total, more than 475 rules have been amended and modified, and new ones have been added. The agency released more than 6,000 pages of documents related to the proposed rules in mid-July.
“These rules changes are a massive overhaul of federal mining regulations and could result in the elimination of many good paying jobs in the area,” said Phil Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association. “The fact that this public hearing is being held nearly 100 miles from the nearest coal mine, shows just how difficult OSM wants to make it for miners and their families to have their voices heard.”
A 100 miles was nothing for Ches Blevins, TMRA executive director and general counsel, who traveled to the hearing from Texas to highlight the negative effects of the proposed SPR. “The responsible development and use of our natural resources will be substantially harmed, very likely sterilizing millions of tons of coal reserves, while, at the same time, keeping millions of dollars in royalty payments from private landowners and the many cities and school districts that rely on the taxes from the responsible recovery of our Texas lignite and coal,” Blevins said.
“The proposed rules were developed to address some very specific concerns in six Appalachian states,” Blevins said. “The rules, however, have been unnecessarily broadened into ‘one size fits all.’ The public comment period for these unusually complex proposed regulations was set at 60 days, and many will duplicate protections currently required by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the states with the potential of shutting down or limiting production from numerous mining operations throughout the country, including those in Texas.”
“OSM’s annual reviews and comments fully support the fact that, under the state program administered by the Railroad Commission of Texas, the coal mining industry is meeting or exceeding the environmental, health and safety goals and requisites of all state and federal mining acts and regulations,” Blevins said.
The rules are expected to become effective on January 1, 2017, following OSM’s review of the comments provided by TMRA and other members of industry and the public.