Today, the Environment and Public Works Committee is holding a hearing on the Department of the Interior’s proposed Stream Protection Rule. The proposed rule will revise 30-year-old regulations based on significant scientific advances on the impacts of surface coal mining on human health and the environment.
Although coal mining regulation under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) generally does not fall under this Committee’s jurisdiction, this hearing will focus on the impacts of the rule and the mining practices it regulates on public health and the environment, endangered species, and clean water.
A growing body of peer-reviewed science shows that people living downstream from coal mines face a greater risk of cancer, birth defects, and premature death.
In Appalachia, the Stream Protection Rule will place limits on the dumping of mine waste in headwaters streams at mountaintop removal coal mines -- one of the most destructive mining practices used today. This practice involves literally cutting the tops off of mountains and dumping the excess rock and soil into headwater streams that are critical for flood control, water quality, and the health of some of the nation’s most precious ecosystems.
Mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed more than 500 mountains, buried more than 2,000 miles of headwater streams, and polluted thousands of miles of downstream surface waters. And the mining waste associated with these sites can include a host of toxic chemicals, including selenium, arsenic, and lead that can leach into streams and rivers, severely degrading water quality.
For the first time, the proposed Stream Protection Rule will require coal mining companies to collect baseline data on water quality and require mining companies to monitor streams during mining and reclamation to ensure that downstream waters are not harmed. Having this information is critical for affected citizens to know if their sources of drinking water are being polluted and to hold federal and state agencies accountable for enforcing laws to protect drinking water.
It is clear that the three-decade old regulations are not working to protect our drinking water supplies. With overwhelming science clearly showing the impacts of certain mining practices on the environment and public health, we cannot allow the coal companies to continue with business as usual.
The Department of the Interior is doing the right thing by working to modernize its mining rules, and the Stream Protection Rule will hold the coal industry to consistent national standards for protection of water quality. Clean drinking water is a critical resource, and the proposed rule will provide important safeguards for the entire nation.
The poisoning by lead of children in Flint, Michigan, from contaminated drinking water has shaken this nation. This is surely the time to do more to protect America’s families from poisons in their drinking water. It should NOT be the time for the Republican majority to do the exact opposite by trying to undermine the Stream Protection Rule, which will protect public health from toxic chemicals that leach from coal mine waste into drinking water.
As I have said, and as our witness will elaborate upon, we already know that people living downstream from coal mines are very vulnerable.
While the proposed rule has critics on both sides – those who want to make it stricter and those who want to make it more lenient – I believe this rulemaking should move forward. Regular order will ensure that all public comments on all sides will be considered. I look forward to hearing how this rule can be finalized and provide clear protections for the health of families and children.