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Easing of Mine Rule Opposed

March 31, 2004|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Tales of flattened peaks, floods and homes swept away or devalued in central Appalachia were laid out Tuesday by opponents to a Bush administration plan to ease a regulation protecting streams from coal-mining operations.

Testifying at an Interior Department hearing on the proposal, Mary Miller of Sylvester, W. Va., said the value of her home had dropped from $144,000 to below $12,000.

Residents of Sylvester won damages last month in a suit against a mining company over coal dust covering their homes, vehicles and other property.

"I'm out here now trying to save my home," Miller said. "I don't have much left anyway. I don't have many years left. But I'm thinking about the water shortage for my children."

The Interior Department in January proposed easing a 1983 rule that set limits on coal mining near streams. Current policy forbids land within 100 feet of a stream from being disturbed by mining unless a company can prove it will not affect the water's quality and quantity.

The new rule would require coal operators to minimize only "to the extent possible" any damage to streams, fish and wildlife by "using the best technology currently available."

In a small auditorium at the department's headquarters, nearly all of the more than two dozen speakers opposed the plan. A lawyer for the National Mining Assn. was the only one to praise it.

"Our preference is that the rule be deleted entirely," said Bradford Frisby, the trade group's associate general counsel. "There are other regulations that protect streams."

His group has described the current buffer-zone rule as confusing and going beyond the intent of Congress when it passed a 1977 law on the environmental impact of coal mining.

Citizens, environmentalists, religious leaders and public health advocates turned out to demand that the department drop its proposal and instead more vigorously enforce current law. Hearings on the issue also were held Tuesday in Charleston, W.Va.; Greentree, Pa.; Hazard, Ky., and Harriman, Tenn.

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