Bush Admin. Rule Change Would Give a Boost to Mountaintop Mining

Mountaintop-removal mining is poised to get even easier thanks to a rule change proposed by the Bush administration yesterday. Significant chunks of Appalachia have already been devastated by this mining technique, which involves blasting off the tops of mountains to get at coal beneath and dumping the resulting dirt and rock into nearby valleys and streambeds. An existing (though spottily enforced) rule restricts mining activity within 100 feet of a stream unless a company can prove that it won’t affect water quality or quantity. The Interior Department wants to replace it with a rule that says mining companies must simply protect streams “to the extent possible, using the best technology currently available” — a pretty loosey-goosey standard, enviros argue. This isn’t the first time the administration has changed rules to facilitate mountaintop mining; in May 2002, it rewrote Clean Water Act rules in order to legalize waste dumping in streams.