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Trash Rule rewrite absurd

Published: Wednesday, May 01, 2002
Page: P4A
Byline: Gzedit

WHEN it comes to bowing before industry, President George W. Bush is making former West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood look like a piker.

Sure, Underwood catered in just about every way he could to coal corporations. He tried to stop workers' comp lawsuits against coal companies - suits that have since won almost $60 million in settlements for the state. He hired industry executives for key state regulatory positions.

But even Underwood might have hesitated about the proposed rewrite of U.S. dumping rules under consideration by the Bush administration.

The purpose of the rewrite is to loosen rules for the huge valley fills used in mountaintop-removal mining. The U.S. Clean Water Act says permits should not be issued for "waste" to be dumped in streams.

Dredge and fill permits should be issued only when creeks are being filled for the primary purpose of creating dry land or changing the elevation of a waterway.

If the primary purpose is to dispose of waste, permits should not be issued, current regulations say. A series of court rulings over the past few years consistently determined that dirt and rock disposed of in valley fills constitutes waste - the cutoff tops of mountains - rather than fill material.

A landmark ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden found that valley fills were illegal because of this, except in streams that run only part of the year. That ruling was overturned on a jurisdictional technicality, but a new suit before Haden could result in a similar ruling without the jurisdictional issues.

Industry's solution to this problem is simple: Rewrite the rules. The Clinton administration proposed a new rule that would redefine fill material. But after it received 17,000 comments against the change, the administration shelved the rule.

Bush dusted it off, and his administration even added some amendments sought by the National Mining Association. These amendments pretty much open the door for anything anyone might want to dump into a stream.

Toilets, sinks and junk cars are among the items specifically mentioned in the new draft. And, at the behest of the NMA, Bush even removed language that would prohibit "unsuitable fill material" from being dumped in streams. Daniel Rosenberg, a lawyer for the National Resources Defense Council, summed up: "The National Mining Association said, 'We don't want any limits on what the corps says we can put in the water.' The National Mining Association said, 'Take the lid off.' They asked for it, and they got it." This change will be bad for West Virginia's ravines and streams. It will gut the whole intent of the Clean Water Act. Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., is planning a hearing on the change in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

We hope opposition to this change is vocal enough to remind President Bush that his constituency is broader than coal owners.

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