1999 Scorecard Vote
In mountaintop removal strip mining, coal companies blast away entire mountaintops to reach seams of coal and then dump the leftover rock and earth into adjacent valleys, burying streams under millions of tons of coal mining waste. Recently, a West Virginia federal district court prevented the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection from issuing new mining permits that allowed streams to be destroyed by mining wastes. The court ruled that these practices violate the water quality standards of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the stream protection provisions of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).
In response to this court decision, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) attempted to attach a last-minute rider to the Fiscal Year 2000 Omnibus appropriations bill. The amendment would have exempted coal mining operations anywhere in the country from CWA and SMCRA. The rider would have created permanent environmental damage by opening up miles of protected streams to harmful dumping of mine wastes. In addition, it would set a precedent for other polluting industries to request their own exemptions from the Clean Water Act.
In an effort to increase support among Western senators, Senator Byrd introduced an expanded rider that would also have opened up unlimited amounts of public land to the dumping of toxic hardrock mining wastes. This expanded provision was identical to Senator Larry Craig's (R-ID) millsite rider (see Senate vote 1). Although he was unable to get this rider inserted in the Omnibus appropriations bill, Senator Byrd put the Senate on record on the issue by attaching it to a continuing resolution.
On November 18, 1999, the Senate approved the Byrd amendment, 56–33. NO is the pro-environment vote. Because the House had already adjourned for the year, the continuing resolution could not become law, making the vote largely symbolic. Senator Byrd has vowed a return to this issue in this year's session of Congress.