Murray Energy ready to challenge Stream Protection Rule in court

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — The president and CEO of Murray Energy is pledging to file a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s Stream Protection Rule the day it’s filed — a finalization that could come as early as July.

“It’s a lie,” Bob Murray said of the rule’s title on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.” “It has nothing to do with protecting streams. It has everything to do with eliminating the United States coal industry.”

Because of his belief that the regulations are illegal, Murray said his company will be seeking an immediate stay from the courts on the regulations, similar to the stay the U.S. Supreme Court granted in February for the implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

Federal officials have said the new regulations, also called the “buffer zone rule,” are overhauls and updates to rules first implemented in 1983 and are written to address any potentially negative environmental effects from coal mining on surface water and groundwater.

Once finalized, the rule could apply to about 6,500 miles of streams and will cover both surface mines and any surface effects originating in underground mines.

Opponents have argued adequate stream protections are already in place through the EPA and other agencies and predicted coal job losses in the tens of thousands nationwide if the rule takes effect as it’s currently written.

“That’ll shut it all down (coal mining) when they put this rule out,” Murray predicted. “They know that. They have done it illegally.”

On May 1, 2015, Murray said his company employed 8,400 people nationwide. On May 1, 2016, the number was less than 5,000, with about 2,500 of those employees in West Virginia.

Murray Energy owns the Ohio County Mine, formerly the Shoemaker Mine; the Marshall County Mine, formerly the McElroy Mine; the Marion County Mine, formerly the Loveridge Mine; the Harrison County Mine, formerly the Robinson Run Mine and the Monongalia County Mine, formerly the Blacksville Mine.

“It all depends on the politics. It depends on the litigation,” Murray said of coal’s future in the Mountain State. “I could lose everything in West Virginia. It’s really disconcerting to me because these people just want to work in honor and dignity.”

In general, the proposed Stream Protection Rule is written to do the following, according to OSMRE:

– Revise OSM’s regulations to clearly define “material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area,” and require that each permit specify the point at which adverse mining-related impacts on groundwater and surface water would reach that level of damage.

– Require mine operators to collect adequate pre-mining data about the site of the proposed mining operation and adjacent areas to establish an adequate baseline for evaluation of the impacts of mining and the effectiveness of reclamation.

– Adjust monitoring requirements to enable timely detection and correction of any adverse trends in the quality or quantity of surface water and groundwater or the biological condition of streams.

– Ensure protection or restoration of perennial and intermittent streams and related resources, ensure that mine operators and regulatory authorities make use of the most current science and technology, and ensure that land disturbed by mining operations is restored to a condition capable of supporting the uses that it was capable of supporting prior to mining.

Additionally, the rule addresses requirements in cases when the proposed permit or adjacent areas contain threatened or endangered species or federally designated critical habitats.

Several public hearings on the Stream Protection Rule were held last fall, including one in Charleston.

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