Agency weighing petition to ban toxic clouds during surface mining

Washington – The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is seeking public comment on a petition to ban visible nitrogen oxide clouds during blasting at surface coal mining operations.

Banning the toxic, red-orange clouds of chemicals would improve safety and health for miners and the general public, according to the petitioner, nonprofit environmental organization WildEarth Guardians. The visible emissions indicate a high concentration of nitrogen dioxide that exceeds federal health standards but is not restricted under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, the petition states.

“There are a number of control measures that could be undertaken by mining operators to prevent the formation of these visible emissions,” WildEarth Guardians Climate and Energy Program Director Jeremy Nichols wrote in the petition, which was sent April 14.

Comments are due Aug. 25. If all or part of the petition is granted, OSMRE said it will initiate rulemaking proceedings and seek public comment again before adopting a final rule.