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Local officials credit the Ohio EPA for bringing the Hocking River up to aquatic standards. The river only met 38 percent of the standards when first assessed in the 1980s. (FILE)

Repealed Stream Protection Rule may affect Athens

At the end of his presidency, Barack Obama put together the Stream Protection Rule, which regulated the dumping of mining waste in streams. Less than two months later, President Donald Trump is slated to sign a resolution doing away with the rule. 

How this change will affect Appalachian Ohio, where all of the state's coal mining takes place, remains to be seen.

The move was welcomed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. When the rule was created in December, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey released a statement blasting the rule.

"This is yet the latest regulatory overreach by the Obama Administration to adopt an extreme measure contrary to law," DeWine said in the statement. "The rule exceeds the power granted by Congress and ignores separate regulatory authority reserved to the states and other agencies."

DeWine threatened to take "whatever legal action is necessary" to fight the rule, which proved unnecessary given the rule's short life.

The Stream Protection Rule, in addition to regulating mining companies' dumping of waste, would require streams and mined areas to be returned to pre-development conditions. There would also be more monitoring of streams, and companies found polluting would be held financially accountable.

"I think the communities in southeast Ohio are no stranger to the impact that (mining) has on the region," Jen Miller, director of the Ohio chapter of environmental group Sierra Club, said. "(There are) streams that run orange and run white because they’re so full of dangerous toxins."

Athens County itself does not produce any coal. According to the Ohio Coal Association, Athens produced zero short tons of coal in 2010. Neighboring Perry County, however, produced the third most of any county in the state: 2.9 million short tons. Perry County's mines are located in the Hocking River watershed, which means those polluted streams will flow into the Hocking eventually.

Miller said the rule affected longwall mining and mountaintop mining, which she said were two of the most common types of mines in Ohio, and two of the most destructive.

"Communities near coal fields and coal mines are likely to continue to experience heavy metal pollution," Miller said. "Coal mining will spew mercury, arsenic and other chemicals into waterways, putting families near those waterways at risk."

But DeWine and members of the coal mining industry viewed the ruling as redundant. Christian Palich, president of the Ohio Coal Association, said the Stream Protection Rule was adding unneeded regulations.

"It's essentially just duplicating a bunch of rules, which is completely unnecessary when this is being done by the state and federal government," Palich said. 

Palich said Ohio had rules under the Clean Water Act that regulated the dumping of mining waste into streams and that the Stream Protection Rule was an attempt for the federal government to interfere with the states' economies.

"We already can't dump (waste) in streams," he said.


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