114th Congress: We're updating with new data as it becomes available.

OpenCongress Blog

Blog Feed Comments Feed More RSS Feeds

Bills Aim To Undo Bush Coal Mining Ruling

February 11, 2010 - by Eric Naing

Complementary bills in the House and Senate seek to re-redefine what kind of “fill material” can legally be dumped in lakes and rivers.

Under the 1977 Clean Water Act, companies could apply for permits allowing them to place “fill material” in US waters. Strictly prohibited, however, was waste from mountaintop removal operations. But in 2002, the Bush administration changed the definition of “fill material” to include mining waste.

The Washington Post explains the process of mountaintop mining and its risks:

Mountaintop mining occurs mainly in West Virginia and Kentucky, though there also are mines in far-Southwest Virginia and in Tennessee. At these sites, peaks are sheared off with heavy machinery and explosives, exposing the coal seams inside. Excess rock is used to fill steep Appalachian valleys, some with streams at the bottom, to the brim.

That jumbled rock is the problem, the scientists said. When rainwater falls on the filled-in valley, it trickles through the rubble and picks up pollutants off rocks that came from deep underground. The water emerges, they said, imbued with pollutants such as metals and chemicals called sulfates, which can be toxic to the insects and fish in small Appalachian streams.

Sen. Ben Cardin [D, MD]’s Appalachia Restoration Act (S.696) and Rep. Frank Pallone [D, NJ-6]’s Clean Water Protection Act (H.R.1310) both would undo President Bush’s rule change by redefining “fill material” to once again exclude mining waste and trash.

Cardin explained his intent in a press release:

My goal is to put a stop to one of the most destructive mining practices that has already destroyed some of America’s most beautiful and ecologically significant regions. This legislation will put a stop to the smothering of our nation’s streams and water systems and will restore the Clean Water Act to its original intent.

Both bills were introduced last March, but neither chamber has taken much action on them. The coal industry has a significant presence in Washington and many legislators are wary of supporting a measure in this economy that some say will result in the loss of mining jobs.

Cardin’s bill currently has the support of ten senators, including one Republican: Sen. Lamar Alexander [R, TN]. Of the 163 representatives supporting Pallone’s bill, seven are Republicans.

For a more in-depth look at the issue of mountaintop mining, please check out this excellent piece in the Washington Independent.

Like this post? Stay in touch by following us on Twitter, joining us on Facebook, or by Subscribing with RSS.