Officials from the Department of the Interior are taking criticism over a proposal to merge the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement with the Bureau of Land Management. Regulators were in a Senate committee hearing today over the issue, but Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky took the opportunity to bring up another topic: stream protection in Appalachia.
Paul questioned OSM director Joe Pizarchik about his office’s plan to rewrite the rule that requires mine waste to be kept 100 feet from streams. President George W. Bush scrapped the requirement in the waning days of his second term, but multiple lawsuits have forced the agency to rewrite the rule, rather than just reinstate the old buffer zone.
The Office of Surface Mining hasn’t proposed the rule yet, but Paul took issue with the suggestion that ephemeral streams might be designated as worthy of protection.
“And you hear this ridiculous notion from people saying we’ve destroyed 2,000 miles of stream,” he said. “People think that, ‘oh, they’re polluting the Ohio River and we’ve disrupted the Ohio River or some major creeks’. We’re not talking about that at all.”
Paul repeatedly brought up Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s definition of ‘navigable streams,’ which applies to regulation under the Clean Water Act. But OSM operates under the 1977 Surface Mining Reclamation and Control Act, or SMCRA.
Paul suggested the OSM should reconsider what it considers a stream.
“There is a danger to what you’re doing,” he said. “I will tell you that we in Kentucky don’t like it, we will oppose you, we will make Congress vote on these things, and this will work across aisles. But it gets back to not whether we’re for clean water or for clean streams, it has to do with the definition of streams.”
Pizarchik responded that the agency is trying to make SMCRA more effective. He said the act is all about protecting people and the environment, which is what the agency is trying to do.