Kentucky Waterways Alliance Challenges Rulemaking

Along with a coalition of environmental groups, Kentucky Waterways Alliance (KWA) took the Bush administration to court on Dec. 22 over a controversial rule change pushed through the Office of Surface Mining on Dec. 12.

According to a KWA press release, the legal challenge would overturn the last-minute repeal of the stream buffer zone rule -- an environmental law that, since 1983, has prohibited surface coal mining activities within 100 feet of flowing streams.

Attorneys with Earthjustice, Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, Appalachian Citizens Law Center, Sierra Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance filed the legal challenge in federal district court in Washington, D.C. on behalf of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Tennessee-based Save Our Cumberland Mountains, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and two other West Virginia-based groups: Coal River Mountain Watch and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

If not overturned, the rule change would lead to even more mountaintop removal coal mining. Detrimental to Kentucky streams, the rule change would give coal mining operations free reign on the use of mountaintop removal and other surface mining methods to bury the state's waterways under mountains of rock and debris.

The rule change was published in the Federal Register December 12 and will go into effect January 12, at which time mining companies would be free to bury streams with mining waste without reproach under the law administered by the Office of Surface Mining. Because the change was finalized before Dec. 20, it will be difficult for Congress to undo it under the Congressional Review Act.

"This is among the 11th hour landmines planted by the Bush administration that an EPA headed by Lisa Jackson stands to inherit," said Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Chavez, who filed the complaint. "We are doing what we can to make it easier for the incoming administration to undo the damage wrought by the last one and restore our nation's commitment to protecting the waters and summits of the Appalachians."

Kentucky Waterways Alliance argues with other opponents that the rule change violates the Clean Water Act and that EPA failed to fulfill its duties under the law when it signed off on the rule change, proposed by the Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining.

For a copy of the complaint, visit