No fewer than 43,000 Americans spoke out during the public comment period on a U.S. Department of Interior Office of Surface Mining (OSM) proposal to weaken the Stream Buffer Zone (SBZ) rule and unleash more mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining, according to information gathered by 700Mountains.org and the Citizens Lead for Energy Action Now (CLEAN) coalition.

The “overwhelming majority” of the 43,000 comments were opposed to the industry-backed draft rule that would weaken the SBZ rule and pave the way for significantly more MTR-related pollution, including the potential leveling of up to 700 mountains over the next 10 years.

In conversations with a representative of 700Mountains.org, two OSM officials confirmed the total number of comments and the extraordinarily high level of opposition to the SBZ rule proposal.

“The public has clearly spoken: Mountaintop removal is a national disgrace and Bush should not change another rule in order to help Big Coal blow up more mountains and bury more streams,” said Chuck Nelson, a former deep miner and volunteer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia citizens’ group at http://www.ohvec.org.

“How can 43,000 people stand up and speak like we spoke against this destruction and somebody not hear us?” asked Carl Shoupe of Harlan County, a member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth at http://www.kftc.org. “That’s humanly impossible for me to fathom.”

The strong opposition to OSM’s proposed SBZ rule is consistent with the findings of a September 2007 survey sponsored by 700Mountains.org project of the nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute (CSI) think tank. That survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation that two out of three Americans (65 percent) oppose the Bush Administration’s proposed rule “to ease environmental regulations to permit wider use of ‘mountaintop removal’ coal mining in the U.S.” The survey also found that the Bush Administration plan to permit wider MTR coal mining is favored by only about one out of four Americans (26 percent), including just 14 percent of Democrats, 27 percent of Independents, and 42 percent of Republicans. Full survey findings are available online at http://www.700Mountains.org.

Civil Society Institute President and Founder Pam Solo said: “What we are faced with today is a threat about which no American should remain silent. With nearly 500 U.S. mountains estimated to already have been subjected to the ravages of mountaintop removal coal mining, we are deeply concerned that another 500-700 mountains could be at risk under the wide-open approach contemplated under the proposed rule change. If the coal industry succeeds in convincing politicians and the media to buy into the ‘clean coal’ myth, it gives them further license to engage in a massive expansion of mountaintop removal. The people who are selling the ‘clean coal’ myth today are the same ones who are falsely suggesting that Americans have nothing to fear from a stream buffer zone rule change. The good news is that 43,000 Americans have sent Washington the signal that they are not buying this dirty-coal PR job.”

Under the industry’s proposed SBZ rule change, mining companies would be permitted to dump their waste into streams and other fresh drinking water supplies. The new rule would unleash more MTR coal mining, which buries fresh water streams and creates toxic coal slurry impoundments, while employing many fewer miners than are involved in traditional mining methods. MTR coal mining already has destroyed more than 1,000 miles of fresh water streams and 700 mountains in the U.S. Changing the SBZ rule would result in the destruction of 1,000 more miles of streams and up to 700 additional mountains.

More info: www.700mountains.org