The Science and Politics of the Stream Protection Rule: Where Are We Now

The Science and Politics of the Stream Protection Rule: Where Are We Now

The Stream Protection Rule (SPR) was a former regulation published by the Department of the Interior (DOI) Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement (OSMRE) in December 2016 that became effective in January 2017, the last full day of the Barack Obama Administration. According to OSMRE the SPR was meant to “improve the balance between environmental protections and the Nation’s need for coal as a source of energy.”  

After spending 6 years and millions of dollars, OSMRE released the SPR draft in July 2015, initially allowing only a “60-day period for public input.”  Following an outcry from industry operators, insurance and financial institutions, state government agencies and the public that a 60-day period was not adequate to review a proposed ruling, an additional 30 days was granted.  Hence, the public had 3 months to review the approximately 1000-page document.

Besides the potential economic implications, and largely overlooked by the news media and some politicians, are the serious flaws and shortcomings in the scientific assumptions and supporting documentation that were proposed for the potential impacts of the SPR. Mining and reclamation success stories which are the norm are rarely reported.

ECSI, LLC, was retained by the Interstate Mining Compact Commission (IMCC), an association representing state governments with mining interests to assist in the review of the SPR and its impacts on the states.  The ECSI team, which included engineers, geologists, scientists, attorneys, and economists from across the country identified several technical deficiencies including: 1) an inadequate review of supporting technical literature, 2) reliance upon a hypothetical “Model Mine” approach for subsidence prediction, 3) indefensible applications of overburden depth threshold limits, and 4) restricted definitions for mine types regarding “material damage to the hydrologic balance.” All state governments with SMCRA Primacy opposed the SPR.

In summary, OSMRE proposed a technically flawed rule that had a significantly greater agenda then just protecting the nations streams. The SPR was overturned by the U.S. Senate passage of a Congressional Review Act promoted by the current Donald Trump Administration and nullified in February 2017.