Open house meetings to be held on stream regulations

The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is trying something different to gather public input into new rules regarding the effects of mining on streams.

Instead of open microphone sessions that can turn into loud, boisterous rallies, the agency is holding open house meetings where citizens can visit informational booths and talk directly with OSM staffers and contractors.

The public comments will help the office develop an environmental impact statement.

OSM is rewriting regulations after two lawsuits that challenged a 2008 Bush administration decision to end a 1983 rule requiring that mine spoil be kept 100 feet from streams.

Appeals courts decided not to vacate the Bush administration's decision, saying the federal agency needed to rewrite the rule if it wanted to make changes to the stream buffer, said Joe Pizarchik, director of OSM.

The rule-making process involves getting public input, and OSM officials looked at recent public meetings held by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency in Pike ville and elsewhere. Those sessions sometimes brought out thousands of people, including cheering crowds, stumping politicians and long speeches.

"Some folks got pretty rowdy, and there were folks that were intimidated," Pizarchik said.

OSM has requested local and state police presence at Monday's open house in Hazard, he said. Four meetings have been held, and they have been calm, peaceful events where environmental groups, industry representatives and independent citizens have come to ask questions and make comments, he said.

Some topics OSM is seeking comment on:

■ Limiting exceptions to the requirement that mined areas be restored to their original contour. Options range from doing nothing to ending mountaintop removal, which would require an act of Congress, Pizarchik said.

■ Updating the agency's definition of perennial, intermittent and ephemeral streams.

■ Revising excess spoil rules to reduce discharges of minerals into streams and reduce the mines' footprint.

■ Moving OSM closer to a plan outlined by the Obama administration to stop what it calls excessive environmental damage caused by coal mining in central Appalachia.