Stream Buffer Zone Rule Repeal Deserves President Obama’s Attention

To the outrage of environmentalists across the Appalachian region, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved a severe weakening of a rule protecting streams from coal mining pollution in early December.

The Stream Buffer Zone rule had been in effect since 1983 to protect the nation’s headwater streams from being buried by valley fills from mountaintop removal and radical strip mining. Previously, the law required that the impacts of mining be kept at least 100 feet from a stream. In August of 2007, the Bush Administration and the Office of Surface Mining, Reclaimation, and Enforcement (OSMRE) proposed a change to the law that essentially repeals this important regulation, and allows coal companies to permanently
bury Appalachian streams beneath hundreds of millions of tons of mining waste.

The change had to receive written approval from EPA before it could be finalized. Although the EPA gave its approval, opponents of the change argue that EPA did so illegally, because it conflicts with their duties under the Clean Water Act.

“Once again, the EPA has failed to live up to its name,” said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice. “With less than two months left in power, the Bush administration is determined to cement its legacy as having the worst environmental record in history. This is a sad day for all people who are thankful for the clear mountain streams and stately summits of the Appalachians.”

In the days leading up to the decision, Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen and Kentucky governor Steve Beshear came out in opposition to the rule change. “Kentucky’s vast water resources are critical to our health and economic development,” Beshear wrote in his letter to Stephen Johnson, EPA administrator, “and I do not believe the newly proposed waivers can be effectively and uniformly applied to protect these water resources.” Beshear was joined in his objection by Attorney General Jack Conway and Congressmen Ben Chandler, of Lexington, and John Yarmuth, of Louisville, all of whom wrote individual letters of concern to the EPA.

This rule change will be one of the most important of Bush’s “midnight regulations” for President Barack Obama to repeal upon assuming the presidency. If done quickly with the correct timing, the President Obama could overturn it with a direct executive order. However, if the rule remains in place too long, it will take Congressional legislation to overturn it, a process that, by its nature, takes much much longer. Every day that passes while this rule remains in place means greater and greater potential for pollution of water resources across the coal fields of Appalachia.

Study Shows State-specific Effects of Climate Change

by Sarah Vig
A September 2008 study published by the Center for Integrative Environmental Research (CIER) at the University of Maryland in conjunction with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) details the predicted effects of climate change on the economy and environment of 12 states across the nation, including the Appalachian states of Tennessee and North Carolina.

The study estimates possible costs to North Carolina’s economy of $14.1 billion due to lost property value from sea-level rise, lost tourism revenues from increased hurricane activity, and threat to forest productivity from the spread of invasive species. For Tennessee, the study predicts that projected impacts due to increased flooding or drought could be significant, affecting the state’s $21.7 billion forest industry, infrastructure, and water resources.

“This report shows that climate change will affect all areas of Tennessee’s economy,” said Dean Menke, a policy specialist at Environmental Defense Fund, an organization who provided funding for some of the research.  “Droughts, like the one this year that affected the state’s water quality, agriculture and forestry, could become more frequent and severe if climate change is left unchecked.”

The overview of the project and links to individual state reports can be found at:

Corridor K Highway Project Stokes Controversy

Public opposition is growing against a 10-mile section of a proposed four-lane highway in western North Carolina that would cut through a portion of the Nantahala National Forest and ultimately link Asheville, NC to Chattanooga, TN.

An environmental study by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) claimed that the road would have little environmental impact, but several conservation groups condemned the findings, stating that the project is exorbitantly expensive, would pose a threat to local water quality, wildlife habitat, and other natural resources, and would not be the economic boon to local communities it was conceptualized to be in the original planning stages 40 years ago.

The highway, known as Corridor K, is projected to cost $378 million and would cut a 2,870 foot tunnel under the Snowbird Mountains, requiring excavation of 3 million cubic yards of rock.
Furthermore, studies conducted by DOT show that for most hours of the day, driving the new road would make no difference in travel times compared to existing routes, which, with modest improvements, are projected by the NCDOT to have acceptable levels of traffic for 20 years or more.

Opponents to the proposed Corridor K fear it is just a stepping stone to another controversial road project, Interstate 3, which would link Savannah, GA to Knoxville, TN.

An NCDOT public comment period on the project ended Oct. 14. The next public comment hearings are scheduled for the first of the year in Graham County.

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