Front Porch Blog

Sally Jewell questioned by Senators Manchin, Alexander

Sally Jewell Confirmation

The Obama administration’s pick to run the Department of the Interior, Sally Jewell, had her confirmation hearing last Thursday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Jewell is the chief executive of REI, the outdoor equipment company, and has experience as an engineer for Mobil, a banker for Washington Mutual, and a board member of the National Parks Conservation Association.

During the hearing, she was questioned by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). He predictably focused on coal and the potential for any new regulation on the industry. Manchin asked Jewell for the definition of a stream, which apparently she does not carry around in her pocket at all times. After not giving much of a response, Manchin seemed content to offer his own:

“Is it basically a flowing water stream,” he said. “Twelve months a year, mostly a wet water stream that flows 12 months a year.”

That definition is somewhat similar to the official definition of a perennial stream. According to the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement, a perennial stream is “a stream or part of a stream that flows continuously during all of the calendar year as a result of ground-water discharge of surface runoff” — an interpretation that is commonly used by state regulators too.

Manchin and the coal industry would prefer that perennial streams be the only interpretation of “stream” under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. But it does not include intermittent or ephemeral streams, which carry water for most of the year, but not perennially. If OSMRE were to finalize a rule-making prohibiting the dumping of waste into streams according to Manchin’s narrow definition, mining companies would continue using valley fills to dump mountaintop removal waste, polluting ecosystems and communities.

OSMRE has indeed been working on a federal rule-making to rewrite the Stream Protection Rule and with our allies, Appalachian Voices is pushing the agency to protect all streams from the dumping of mining waste. Manchin took his best opportunity to speak with the future Secretary of the Interior to let her know that coal mining waste belongs in his state’s streams. The coal industry’s “biggest problem,” as he put it, is overregulation. His comments were disappointing, but by no means surprising for those of us who have watched the Senator side with the coal industry over the health of West Virginians for years.

Fortunately, the other side of the aisle provided some comments on mountaintop removal as well. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) while discussing Jewell’s impressive resume and accomplishments, which he said was complete with business experience worthy of a Republican nominee, spoke to the need to protect the Blue Ridge mountains from mining saying, “I believe in saving mountaintops, and I’m not in favor of blowing the top of them off and dumping it in streams.” And I don’t think he just meant the perennial kind.

At least one of our Appalachian Senators is standing up for the mountains.

We’ll be keeping you updated on Sally Jewell’s confirmation as Interior Secretary, as well as OSMRE’s rule-making process for the Stream Protection Rule.





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  1. Lainie Marsh on March 15, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Joe Manchin is evil incarnate and he should be indicted for his collusion with the coal industry in its crimes against the environment, including the people who inhabit it.

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