The group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has decided to weigh in again on the Obama administration’s plans for the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.
PEER, which backs West Virginia University law professor Pat McGinley, reports that Obama asked longtime Interior and OSM employee Glenda Owens to take the job. My sources tell me that this is correct, but that there was such a backlash against Owens that the administration is trying to figure a way out of that appointment (which hasn’t been formally announced).
Here’s PEER’s statement issued today:
Washington, DC â€” Agency insiders report that President Obama has asked a Bush holdover to remain in charge of the troubled Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM), according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).Â Glenda Owens has a long record of defending mountain top removal, a controversial form of coal mining.Â In 2001, President George W. Bush named her OSM Deputy Director, after she had served several years as the lead agency lawyer defending OSM.
Â During her federal service, Glenda Owens has been one of the top officials fighting legal efforts by conservationists to limit valley fills, delaying reclamation standards and defending Bush cutbacks in clean-ups for abandoned mines. Â Owens also worked closely with former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles (a mining lobbyist now serving a prison sentence on corruption charges)Â to â€œstreamlineâ€ strip mining permits by allowing operators to shortcut environmental reviews.
Â The choice is also somewhat surprising in that presidential candidate Obama spoke out against mountain top removal, saying â€œWe’re tearing up the Appalachian Mountains because of our dependence on fossil fuelsâ€, and â€œWe have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal, than simply blowing the tops off mountains.â€Â In March, the Obama administration signaled that it might take action to curb mountain top removals but under pressure appears to have backed off.Â
Â In tapping Owens, administration officials have passed over two candidates backed by conservation and coalfield citizen groups: Joe Childers, a Lexington, Kentucky, environmental lawyer and .Pat McGinley, a West Virginia University law professor with long experience with coal mining health and safety as well as coalfield reclamation laws.
Â Even strip mining proponents, such as Natural Resources Committee Chair Nick Rahall (D-WV), concede that OSM is at low ebb.Â Rep. Rahall was quoted in the April 11th Charleston Gazette as stating:
â€œThe Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement has lacked strong leadership for a long time. Â It has abdicated its responsibility to enforce the surface mining law, to dovetail environmental protection with coal production and jobs. Â So I think we are at a crossroads here. Â We can either have a strong leader at the helm who will conduct necessary oversight and enforcement or watch the agency continue to sink in a quagmire of ineptitude.â€
Â â€œIt is hard to imagine a poorer choice to lead this troubled agency,â€ stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization backs McGinley for the post.Â â€œGlenda Owens in no way resembles the type of change that Barack Obama promised to bring.â€