Budget Battles Threaten to Bury Streams

It’s been a tough few weeks for clean water in Washington, DC. First, the dirty water bill passed out of the House and then the FY2012 Interior-EPA Appropriations bill was introduced with a slew of funding cuts to key clean water and drinking water programs and dirty water policy riders intended to handcuff the Environmental Protection Agency and states from doing their job to protect public health and clean water for all Americans.

Among the ‘worst of the worst’ of the dirty water riders are two that deal with mountaintop removal mining, a devastating extraction process for coal where the tops of mountains are literally blown off to reach the coal seams beneath. The debris that’s left behind when the mountain is blown up is often dumped into nearby valleys and streams. To date, this practice has damaged or destroyed greater than 500,000 acres of forested land and nearly 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia – the headwater environments that scientists have determined are essential to clean water for fish and human populations in communities downstream.

Under the House Interior-EPA Appropriations bill, clean water is under threat from more destruction of our streams and rivers in two ways – the bill would:

  • Prevent the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) from continuing its work on the Buffer Zone rule. This Reagan-era rule prevented adverse effects from coal mining within 100’ of any stream. The rule was reversed during the Bush administration – allowing mountaintop ‘waste’ to bury streams and mining pollutants to enter waterways. The appropriations bill would stop OSM revisions to restore Buffer Zone safeguards;
  • Prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from continuing their oversight of mountaintop removal coal mining operations administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and states, dismiss the agency’s incorporation of scientific evidence in decision-making and rollback new guidelines developed on the basis of scientific evidence and existing law to protect streams from mining’s harm.

These are just two of nearly 40 total policy riders that threaten protections for our clean air and safe water. We’re at risk of losing critical protections provided by the Clean Water Act.  Congress has invested in clean water and clean water infrastructure for decades. Does today’s Congress really believe the American public wants to reverse our clean water safeguards and bear the cost of dirty water?