Groups Denounce EPA Decision to Allow Industry to
Dump in Waterways
"The mining industry and scores of other industrial polluters
received a gift today from the Bush administration at
the expense of our nation's waterways. The administration
reversed a 25-year-old Clean Water Act rule that flatly
prohibited disposal of mining and other industrial solid
wastes into the nation's waters. To avoid a citizen lawsuit
aimed at protecting Appalachian residents and the environment,
the administration has declared that all waters across
the country are now open to industry for waste disposal.
This single act, described by the Environmental Protection
Agency with Orwellian perfection as a 'clarification'
that will 'enhance environmental protection of our wetlands
and streams,' is the most significant weakening of Clean
Water Act rules since the act was passed in 1972."
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit
organization of scientists, lawyers, and environmental
specialists dedicated to protecting public health and
the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more then 500,000
members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington,
Los Angeles, and San Francisco. More information is available
through NRDC's Web site at www.nrdc.org.
Text Of EPA Announcement :
CORPS AND EPA CLARIFY CLEAN WATER ACT DEFINITION;
NEW ENVIRONMENTAL IMPROVEMENTS ALSO
TO BE MADE IN APPALACHIAN MINING RULES
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers today announced that they are taking action
to better coordinate federal programs affecting protection
of wetlands and streams. Completing a regulation proposed
by the Clinton Administration in 2000, the Army Corps
of Engineers is adopting EPA's approach to the Clean Water
Act's definition of "fill material," which has been in
place since 1977. The regulation will not only remove
ambiguity from Clean Water Act's regulations, but also
enhance environmental protection of our wetlands and streams
by prohibiting the dumping of trash or garbage in them.
In addition, the agencies will apply new conditions to permits
issued to regulate the placement of dirt and rock from
mountaintop mining in streams. The Department of Interior
is also developing regulations intended to improve environmental
protection by reducing the volume of mining discharges
in streams. EPA and the Corps, working with the Department
of Interior's Office of Surface Mining and Fish and Wildlife
Service and the State of West Virginia, are preparing
an Environmental Impact Statement evaluating the impacts
of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia and developing
recommendations for further improvements in the agencies
programs regulating this practice.
"We are committed to working with the affected States to reduce
mining-related environmental impacts, while providing
the nation with the advantages of cleaner burning coal,"
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said.
"Mountaintop mining is a long-established practice in Appalachia,
and this Administration is committed to working with the
affected states to strengthen the environmental safeguards
governing this practice. We are working to establish a
regulatory environment that is clear, predictable, fair
and fosters good environmental stewardship, " said Undersecretary
of the Army Les Brownlee.
The Corps and EPA will publish in the Federal Register a rule
to harmonize differences between existing EPA and Army
Corps of Engineers regulations by adopting EPA's effects-based
approach to the definition of the term "fill material."
The final rule is substantially identical to the rule
proposed in 2000, but includes additional environmental
protections. For example, under the new rules, garbage
or trash will not be permitted in the nation's waters.
As a result of improvements already implemented in West Virginia
by the agencies and the State in 1998, there have been
30 percent fewer valley fills and a reduction in the overall
stream impact of almost 25 percent from these fills. These
improvements are now being applied elsewhere in Appalachia
and we anticipate similar reductions in mining related
The Administration is also undertaking several related actions
to further bolster protection of Appalachian watersheds
impacted by mining.
The Corps is taking steps now to put tougher new restrictions
on mining activities that can be permitted by establishing
limits on the size of valley fills that can be built in
Appalachian streams. The Corps is also requiring more
effective mitigation to compensate for environmental impacts.
The Office of Surface Mining will be proposing changes
to its regulations intended to ensure that mining discharges
in streams are reduced in both size and number. OSM's
changes will also require that better information is provided
by permit applicants regarding their projects so that
adverse environmental impacts can be more effectively
EPA, the Corps, Office of Surface Mining, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service and the State of West Virginia are currently preparing
a joint Environmental Impact Statement that evaluates
the environmental impacts of mountaintop coal mining and
provides recommendations for improving Federal regulatory
programs responsible for the review of proposed mining
operations. The draft Statement will be released later
this summer for public review and comment.
The Office of Surface Mining is responsible for developing the
rules that govern mountaintop removal coal mining under
the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Most Appalachian
states administer these rules through programs delegated
to them by OSM.
EPA is responsible for the development and approval of the standards,
criteria, and effluent guidelines that govern impacts
to the Nation's waters under the Clean Water Act. EPA
approves state water quality standards in accordance with
the Act, which are achieved primarily through programs
administered by the states. EPA also fosters the development
of state wetlands programs, as well as provides environmental
standards and oversight for the administration of the
wetlands permit program under section 404 of the Act.
The Corps regulates the discharge of rock and dirt into wetlands
and streams from mining operations under the section 404
permit program of the Clean Water Act. Discharges under
the permit program may only be authorized in compliance
with environmental standards that include mitigation for
unavoidable impacts to the aquatic environment.