Obama Administration Finalizes Action to Protect U.S. Waterways and Communities from Destruction by Coal Industry

Stream Protection Rule offers modest updates to protect the Nation's water resources


Neil Gormley, Staff Attorney, (202) 667-4500, ext. 5239


Jenifer Collins, Associate Legislative Representative, (202) 667-4500, ext. 5217

Today, the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement released its final Stream Protection Rule, a modest update to the rules intended to protect our Nation’s water resources from damage by destructive coal mining practices, including mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. Action to strengthen these protections is long overdue, and more work still remains to be done. Over the last thirty years, a combination of weak rules and poor enforcement has allowed mountaintop removal operations to destroy an estimated 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia, and pollute even more. This destructive practice has also been linked to such harmful health problems as birth defects and cancer, putting countless communities at unnecessary risk.

Statement from Neil Gormley, Staff Attorney at Earthjustice: 

“Today’s action includes several long-awaited improvements to current regulations, including provisions to ensure gathering of scientific information on the well-being of streams which local communities depend on. Also included are requirements to prevent coal mining companies from walking away from the mess they have caused to waterways, which could protect some of our nation’s precious streams threatened by coal mining, including salmon streams in Alaska.

“Unfortunately, the rule eliminates the Reagan-era stream buffer zone, a strongly worded safeguard that prohibited harmful activity within 100 feet of streams. States have frequently refused to enforce the stream buffer zone, and the coal industry has long sought its repeal.”  

Statement from Jenifer Collins, Associate Legislative Representative at Earthjustice:

“Despite the financial decline of the coal industry, which has seen repeated bankruptcies in recent years due to the rise of clean energy, mountaintop removal mining is still happening in Appalachia, dumping contamination into waterways that destroys water sources. We will continue to work with our partners and allies to ensure that the commonsense protections for Appalachian communities are not rolled back by members of Congress, who would rather use the region as a partisan football than provide meaningful protections. We will also push the Department of Interior for stronger action and oppose any attacks by the coal industry. Clean water cannot be sacrificed for the sake of profits for big business.”


A waterfall in the Appalachian mountains
A waterfall in the Appalachian mountains (Konstantin L / Shutterstock)

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