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Coal states resist mining reforms

WASHINGTON – The coal industry is bracing for tougher rules in the next few months that are expected to slow production, cost thousands of mining jobs, and drain millions of dollars a year from the coffers of coal-dependent states including Kentucky and West Virginia.

Environmentalists, though, say the Obama administration should be even more aggressive in protecting streams and controlling the destructive practices of mountaintop mining.

The federal Office of Surface Mining says complying with its proposed changes to 475 rules will cost the coal industry $52 million a year.

The agency’s proposed Stream Protection Rule has come under fire from Republicans in Congress, who are expected to blister officials at a Senate hearing Wednesday.

Saying the coal mining regulations adopted in 1977 haven’t done enough to protect the environment, the agency wants greater monitoring of the effects of mining on streams and stricter standards for permitting mines.

It would allow the Department of Fish and Wildlife to block a state from issuing a mining permit.

Industry lobbyists say they expect the rules to be finalized this spring or summer.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, and a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement that she’s “deeply concerned about the devastating effects” of the rules and the mining office’s expansion of regulatory powers.

Complying with the rules would lead to higher coal prices at a time when production is already expected to slow 15 percent from 2020 through 2040, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, the public policy research arm of Congress.

The decline in demand that follows would feed a cycle further decreasing overall production, the report said.

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