The Obama administration's own experts estimate their proposal for protecting streams from coal mining would eliminate thousands of jobs and slash production across much of the country, according to a government document obtained by The Associated Press.
The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement document says the agency's preferred rules would impose standards for water quality and restrictions on mining methods that would affect the quality or quantity of streams near coal mines. The rules are supposed to replace Bush-era regulations that set up buffer zones around streams and were aimed chiefly at mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.
The proposal - part of a draft environmental impact statement - would affect coal mines from Louisiana to Alaska.
The office, a branch of the Interior Department, estimated that the protections would trim coal production to the point that an estimated 7,000 of the nation's 80,600 coal mining jobs would be lost. Production would decrease or stay flat in 22 states, but climb 15 percent in North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.
Peter Mail, a spokesman for the surface mining reclamation office, said the proposal's aim is "to better strike the balance between protecting the public and the environment while providing for viable coal mining."
Mali said the document is the first working draft that was shared with state agencies, which are giving their comments on it. Comments also were received from environmentalists, industry, labor and others at meetings held across the country.
"Input received from the public will help shape the final regulatory refinements that will better protect streams and the public while helping meet America's energy needs," Mali said.
The National Mining Association blasted the proposal, saying the federal agency is vastly underestimating the economic impact.