The EIS will examine a range of alternatives that the new rule, the Stream Protection Rule, might address. Those alternatives include keeping the current regulations, as well as other options to prevent downstream impacts without eliminating surface coal mining.

“This is the first of several steps we are taking to arrive at a final rule,” said OSM Director Joe Pizarchik. “As we move forward, we are talking with citizen groups, conservationists, coal industry representatives, state regulators, and others to seek their input in order to write a better rule that will be more protective of streams affected by mining.”

OSM is committed to publish a proposed rule in early 2011 and finalize the rule in mid-2012. Some of the draft concepts the proposed rule might cover include: requiring coal mining companies to gather more extensive and more specific baseline data on a proposed mine site’s hydrology, geology, and aquatic biology; establishing a definition of the term “material damage” to watersheds outside of areas permitted for mining; adding monitoring requirements for surface water, groundwater, and wildlife during mining and reclamation; using monitoring results to establish thresholds for certain mine discharges which, if exceeded, would require a company to take corrective action; and limiting variances and exceptions to approximate original contour.

While the Stream Protection Rule, according to OSM, will have the greatest impact in Appalachia, where mountaintop mining occurs, the rule will apply nationwide since it will also address aspects of coal mine operations throughout the United States.