CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Many supporters of coal were on hand for the last in a series of six public hearings held by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) on the the Stream Protection Rule proposed in July Thursday night at Charleston Civic Center.
The rule, also referred to as the buffer zone rule, updates rules first implemented in 1983, aiming to address negative environmental effects from mining on surface and groundwater. Many in the mining industry and those associated with coal fear the rule could be the final blow for mining in Appalachia.
“This is another chapter in the war on coal from the Obama administration, and this is one that’s going to literally put underground and surface mining in this part of the country out of business,” said West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney. “It’ll take our peoples’ jobs and that’s why we’re all here tonight in strength.”
Speakers were given two minutes to speak throughout the night. The first speaker was Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who received a rousing standing ovation after condemning the rule.
“Just a few miles from here in the heart of the coal country, you can see the faces of those already affected by overreaching federal regulations that ignore economic realities, and attempt to enforce regulations that provide few, if any, substantial benefits,” the governor said in his opening remarks.
Some did turn out in support of the rule, several wearing stickers that said “Our Water, Our Future.” Carey Jo Grace of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition wanted to see bodies of water polluted by coal mining cleaned up under the rule.
“People of Appalachia have been asking for a strong stream protection rule for many, many years,” she said. “We’re glad to see the Office of Surface Mining is putting out a strong, strong rule.”
Debbie Jarrell, the director of Coal River Mountain Watch, blamed politicians for not planning for the decline of the coal industry.
“Alternatives? That is for our politicians, which absolutely are dropping the ball on that. They should have been thinking of this years ago when they knew the coal industry was going to drop like it is,” Jarrell said.
Dave Chapps, a miner from Marshall County who made the long trip to Charleston, said he and his family had mined coal since coming to West Virginia.
“I think we need to clean the White House out,” Chapps said. “It’s terrible. They’ve overstepped their boundaries with every rule they’ve made. They’ve pushed, pushed, pushed, and made rules so that it’s impossible to adhere by them.”
If finalized, the rule could apply to about 6,500 miles of streams and will cover both surface mines and any surface effects that originated in underground mines. State Delegate Marty Gearheart thought the rule was more about a vendetta against coal than about saving the environment.
“There’s little or no environmental benefit to the rule that’s suggested. What it does do is weaken our country by eliminating the most abundant source of energy,” Gearheart said. “It hurts every person in our state and across the country who has to pay more for electricity. And it hurts everyone that works in that industry to keep the lights on and supply a product that we have in abundance in West Virginia.”
Previous public hearings have been held in Denver, Co., Lexington, Ky., St. Louis, Mo., Pittsburgh, Pa., and Big Stone Gap, Va. Those who attended that did not wish to speak publicly were given the opportunity to sit down with a court reporter or submit a written letter.
The public comment period for the stream protection rule goes until Oct. 26.