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Coal and Environmental Compliance: Is There a Balance?

The coal counties of Appalachia have seen their share of the boom and bust cycle, but industry officials fear this time could be different. 

The comment period for new rules protecting waterways near coal mining is being extended after industry officials asked for more time to digest them, but to many, it looks like the handwriting is on the wall for the future of the coal industry.  Harry Childress is the son of a coal miner, now President of Virginia’s coal and energy alliance.  He worries the proposed new rules would make this time more than just a cyclical down trend.

“We know it’s not a down trend when we have our federal government passing regulations that we can’t comply with and we know we can’t recover from if they go into effect.”

The office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement held another in a series of public meetings this week on rule changes that it says would bring “new advances in science to improve the balance between environmental protection and providing for the nation’s need for coal as a source of energy.” They require more protection of nearby streams, monthly testing before permits would be issued and earlier detection and remediation of water quality problems.

Tarence Ray is the son and grandson of fossil fuel industry workers, oil in his case, which he calls a mono economy where he grew up, much the way coal is in Appalachia. Now he’s with Appalachian voices, an environmental advocacy group. 

“And so one of our biggest concerns is that states have shown time and again, that they aren’t willing to enforce environmental protections such as this and this is why we need a strong federal rule.”

His group is asking the Office of Surface Mining to consider adding a provision that would allow for citizen enforcement of the new stream rules to ensure the protections they would require are met.  

The next public hearing on the stream protection rules for waterways near coal mines is Thursday in Charleston, West Virginia. 

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