WASHINGTON – A new stream-protection rule to protect waterways from surface coal mining contamination was met with stiff resistance by Senate Republicans on Tuesday during a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The rule, which was proposed by the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining, would promote better safeguards, oversight and protection for streams near mines. OSM has been working for the last six years to update environmental regulations for streams and other ecosystems surrounding surface mines.
“This proposed rule would better protect streams, fish, wildlife and related environmental values from the adverse impacts of surface coal mining operations and provide mine operators with a regulatory framework to avoid water pollution and the long-term costs associated with water treatment,” a portion of the potential rule reads.
But many of the senators present during the hearing questioned the rule’s supposedly minimal impact on mining operations around the country.
The Interior Department previously reported that the new rule would cost the coal industry $52 million annually in compliance costs and calculated it would result in a maximum loss of 590 jobs. But the day before the hearing, the National Mining Association released a study which showed that the rule would cost between 40,000 and 78,000 jobs and as much as $6.4 billion in lost state and federal tax revenue.
“So you’ve got a wide discrepancy here in terms of the number of jobs and the revenues that we’re discussing here,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, committee chairman.
“It’s going to be interesting, and, I think, important to get down to some accurate numbers.”
Some Democratic committee members, such as Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., implied that the numbers presented by the NMA were overblown.
“It’s such a wide disparity that it seems like almost three-quarters of all coal miners would be displaced by this rule,” Franken said.
According to data from the Colorado Mining Association, state mines employ nearly 18,000 people and provide roughly $7 billion annually toward Colorado’s Gross Domestic Product. Colorado currently has three active surface mines, all on the state’s Western Slope.
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., serves on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee but did not attend the hearing. He could not be immediately reached for comment about the proposed rule.
Edward Graham, a student at American University in Washington, D.C., is an intern with The Durango Herald.