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The Senate is preparing to vote on the House-passed repeal of the Stream Protection Rule.

The Senate is preparing to vote on the House-passed repeal of the Stream Protection Rule.

From the Federal Register – Stream Protection Rule

AGENCY: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Department of Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.

SUMMARY: We, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE or OSM), are revising our regulations, based on, among other things, advances in science, to improve the balance between environmental protection and the Nation's need for coal as a source of energy. This final rule will better protect water supplies, surface water and groundwater quality, streams, fish, wildlife, and related environmental values from the adverse impacts of surface coal mining operations and provide mine operators with a regulatory framework to avoid water pollution and the long-term costs associated with water treatment.

We have revised our regulations to define “material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area” and require that each permit specify the point at which adverse mining-related impacts on groundwater and surface water would reach that level of damage; collect adequate premining data about the site of the proposed mining operation and adjacent areas to establish an adequate baseline for evaluation of the impacts of mining and the effectiveness of reclamation; adjust monitoring requirements to enable timely detection and correction of any adverse trends in the quality or quantity of surface water and groundwater or the biological condition of streams; ensure protection or restoration of perennial and intermittent streams and related resources; ensure that permittees and regulatory authorities make use of advances in science and technology; ensure that land disturbed by mining operations is restored to a condition capable of supporting the uses that it was capable of supporting before mining; and update and codify the requirements and procedures for protection of threatened or endangered species and designated critical habitat.

Approximately thirty percent of the final rule consists of editorial revisions and organizational changes intended to improve consistency, clarity, accuracy, and ease of use.

DATES: This rule is effective January 19, 2017.

Summary of Benefits and Costs
The final regulatory impact analysis (RIA) for this rule contains a detailed discussion of the rule's benefits and costs. We estimate that, among other things, the rule's benefits to streams and forests between 2020 and 2040 will include—

• Restoration of 22 miles of intermittent and perennial streams per year.
• Improved water quality in 263 miles of intermittent and perennial streams per year downstream of minesites.
• Four miles of intermittent and perennial streams per year not being covered by excess spoil fills or coal mine waste facilities.
• Improved reforestation of 2,486 acres of mined land per year.
• Avoidance by mining operations of eight acres of forest per year.
In terms of economic impacts, we estimate that the rule will result in an average annual employment gain of 156 fulltime equivalents between 2020 and 2040. This estimate includes an average annual reduction of 124 fulltime equivalents in employment related to coal production and an average annual gain of 280 fulltime equivalents in industry employment related to implementation of the rule.
We estimate that the rule will result in an average annual 0.08% reduction in coal production between 2020 and 2040, which equates to 0.7 million tons of coal. That amount includes 0.2 million tons produced by surface mining methods (0.04% of the total amount produced by surface mining methods) and 0.5 million tons produced by underground mining methods (0.14% of the total amount produced by underground mining methods). The final RIA projects that this reduction in production will be accompanied by an increase in average annual coal prices ranging from 0.2% in the Powder River Basin to 1.3% in Central Appalachia and the Illinois Basin.

We estimate that total industry compliance costs per year during 2020-2040 would average $81 million, which is 0.1% or less of aggregate annual industry revenues, ranging from an additional one cent per ton of longwall-mined coal on the Colorado Plateau to an additional $1.40 per ton for surface-mined coal in the Illinois Basin.

Of the $81 million in increased annual costs to industry, surface mining operations will bear an estimated $71 million, while underground mining operations will absorb $10 million. In the aggregate, state regulatory authorities will incur estimated additional costs of $0.5 million per year between 2020 and 2040.
Implementation of this rule will result in reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from coal production. Expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalents, we project that those reductions will total 2.6 million short tons in 2020. “Carbon dioxide equivalent” is a unit used to describe the impact of different greenhouse gases on a comparative basis by expressing the impact in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same global warming impact as the type and amount of greenhouse gases at issue. We also project that implementation of the final rule will result in the annualized benefit of $57 million due to the reduced carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel consumption across the timeframe of the analysis (2020—2040).

II. Why are we revising our regulations?

Our primary purpose in adopting this rule is to strike a better balance between “protection of the environment and agricultural productivity and the Nation's needs for coal as an essential source of energy.” [4] Specifically, the rule is designed to minimize the adverse impacts of surface coal mining operations on surface water, groundwater, and site productivity, with particular emphasis on protecting or restoring streams, aquatic ecosystems, riparian habitats and corridors, native vegetation, and the ability of mined land to support the uses that it was capable of supporting before mining.  

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