Revisions Expected for Surface Mine Blasting Rules

By Lorelei Goff

The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement announced in December that it will revise current rules to prevent toxic gas emissions from surface coal mine blasting operations.

The announcement followed a petition from the environmental group Wild Earth Guardians last April to prohibit the production of visible nitrogen oxide emissions during blasting.

Nitrogen oxide — a greenhouse gas linked to respiratory conditions, acid rain and air pollution — is visible as an orange cloud when there is incomplete combustion during blasting at a surface mine. The current rules governing surface coal mine blasting do not specifically address harmful gas releases, allowing a loophole that some mining companies have used to disregard safe practices.

The agency’s public affairs specialist, Christopher Holmes, says the revisions will clarify the intent of the current rules.

“[The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977] says operators may not cause an offsite impact or carry out any activity that threatens human health, safety and welfare, and must prevent damage to property as well,” says Holmes. “So, toxic gases would fall under that.”

Holmes said no deadline has been set for the revisions.


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