The Bush administration is about to ease restrictions on mountaintop-removal mining, making it easier — and legal — for companies to dump mine waste in streams. Since 1983, dumping mine waste within 100 feet of streams has been illegal, but many mining companies have done so anyway due to a combination of lax enforcement and varying interpretations of the law. The Bush admin’s proposed rule change, which will become final after 30 days of public comment, would still require miners to observe the 100-foot stream-buffer rule unless, of course, they don’t want to and can “show why avoidance is not possible.” Some 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have already been buried by massive amounts of mine waste from mountaintop removal in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Interior Department suggests the rule change will be “slightly positive” for the environment since it requires mining companies to minimize debris that’s disposed of outside the mined area, but environmentalists derided the change. “Its only purpose is to expedite mining without regard to environmental damage,” said Ed Hopkins of the Sierra Club.
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