Congressional vote pits coal company profits against clean water

UPDATE (2/2/17): Today Congress voted to throw out protections for our nation's waterways, opening the door for coal mining pollution in drinking water sources and other waters.

Read more in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where SELC Senior Attorney Deborah Murray had this to say: “The Department of the Interior has been working on this rule for the last seven to eight years and in just a matter of days Congress can overturn and block similar rules. It ties the ability of future administrations to impose protections from mining pollution. It’s based on misinformation and overblown rhetoric. ... This is such a heavy-handed way of going about trying to fulfill the administration's agenda. It just leaves communities at risk with their drinking water and public health.”


On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on whether to permanently rollback protections for coal country communities and the water they depend on. The U.S. Senate will vote on Thursday. This is one of the first major environmental rollbacks introduced under the new Congress and presidential administration.

The stream water that flows past mines across our region is drinking water for many. For others, it provides good fishing, swimming or canoeing. For years mining companies have put contaminants in these streams, sending their waste downstream.

The Stream Protection Rule would limit the amount of mining waste that can be deposited into streams, as well as requiring mining companies to monitor the water for coal contaminants and report the findings to the public. Updated in December after years of input, the new rule provides clarity and peace of mind to those still living in coal communities and protects 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forest for the next 20 years, according to the Department of the Interior.

In addition to protecting water supplies, the rule requires mining companies to restore damaged streams, and do their best to return the mined land to how it looked before the machines moved in.

But now Congress is trying to erase the Stream Protection Rule. The rule revisions that took more than six years of meetings with stakeholders to reach final approval in December are scheduled to be repealed through the Congressional Review Act tomorrow. Worse, the Congressional Review Act process also prohibits any similar rules from taking shape in the future. That means these protections for the drinking water in mining communities could go away—for good.

Appalachia has already lost 2,000 miles of streams to mountaintop removal mining. It’s crucial we protect what is left. Congress is placing coal-mining profits above the health of the people in Appalachia and everyone’s basic right to clean water.

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