The Bush Administration redefined "fill material" in 2002, allowing coal mines in Appalachia to destroy streams with the waste created by blowing the tops off of mountains. They further opened that loophole 2 years later, allowing for the dumping of toxic mine "tailings" into nearby streams. This policy change has led to the destruction of more than 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams and caused the death of untold wildlife
I am writing to request that you protect America's imperiled fish and wildlife from mining waste dumped in our nation's waterways by adopting a policy to ensure the treatment of mining wastes before they are discharged to the nation's waters.
Please take immediate action to exclude waste from the definition of "fill material" and end the practice of using lakes, streams and wetlands as waste treatment systems.
The dangerous Bush Administration loophole created in 2002 has allowed mining corporations to call pollution "fill material" and bypass federal pollution standards. Congress intended "fill material" to be used only sparingly in water bodies where necessary for construction purposes, such as building bridges or roads. Accordingly, the Army Corps explicitly excluded waste from the definition of "fill material" for more than 25 years -- spanning the course of several Republican and Democratic administrations. The Bush administration opened the door for mines like the mountaintop removal mines in Appalachia and the Kensington Gold Mine in Alaska to dump untreated waste directly into America's streams and lakes.
Mining waste contains a mix of contaminants, depending on the location and type of mining. It is not clean or safe and should not be dumped in waterways as "fill material."
The mining waste loophole poses a grave threat to the nation's lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands as polluters are now exempt from the effluent limitations painstakingly adopted by the EPA over the last 36 years to provide important basic protection of water quality.
Coal companies across Appalachia have seized on this rollback of the Clean Water Act to use streams as dumping grounds for waste from their mountaintop removal mines. Approximately 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been filled with coal mining waste.
Endangered and threatened species, including the tan riffleshell and the Kentucky arrow darter--highlighted in the recent report, Fueling Extinction, by the Endangered Species Coalition, are being pushed closer to the edge by this loophole.
The Obama administration should close this loophole to safeguard not just water and wildlife, but local economies and jobs. Fishing, outdoor recreation, and tourism jobs across America depend on clean water, which is also essential for local communities' health and welfare.
I ask that you work together to close these Bush-era Clean Water Act loopholes, by reinstating the longstanding exclusion of waste from the definition of "fill material," restoring 36 years of controls on mining waster subject to effluent limitations, and ensuring that natural lakes, streams and wetlands are not used as waste treatment systems.