Let ‘er strip

The Bush administration has proposed to continue and expand mountaintop removal involved in coal mining. The Office of Surface Mining in the Interior Department drafted a rule that would exempt coal mining wastes from the 1983 Stream Buffer Zone Rule, which prohibits coal mining activities that disturb areas within 100 feet of streams.

The practice, though illegal, has long taken place. The rule’s Environmental Impact Statement says the practice buried 724 miles of streams under mining waste between 1985 and 2001, and another 724 miles of streams will be buried by 2018 if it continues. The proposed regulation would enshrine dumping mining wastes into streams in the name of reducing dependency on foreign oil.

Mountaintop removal is the most common form of strip mining in central Appalachia. It involves flattening ridge tops with bulldozers and dynamite, clearing all vegetation, and dumping the rubble in the valleys and streams.

The draft EIS opened for a 60-day public comment period on Aug. 24 at www.regulations.gov. Though it offers “alternatives” in the document, none of them consider enforcing the 1983 stream buffer zone rule as written.

Nevada receives roughly half of its energy from coal-fired power plants, and there are plans to build more here, including the proposed 1,590-megawatt White Pine Energy Station in Ely, a 1,500-megawatt coal-fired power plant also in Ely, and a 750-megawatt plant near Toquop Indian Reservation 12 miles outside Mesquite.

In a letter to the Bureau of Land Management, which owns the land on which the White Pine station is to be built, the Environmental Protection Agency wrote: “The EPA is concerned that the density of new coal-burning plants proposed in Nevada is in excess of the demonstrated need for energy throughout the Western states.”