Coal Tattoo

A citizens’ group from Pennsylvania is criticizing President Barack Obama’s reported plan to pick a regulator from their state to be director of the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The Mountain Watershed Association is circulating a letter opposing the potential nomination of Joseph Pizarchik, director of the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation within the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

According to the association, a group active in Westemoreland and Fayette counties in Western Pennsylvania:

We do not believe this is a good choice as several environmentally dangerous policies have been expanded under his watch.  One of these is the practice of burying power plant waste in unlined pits, sometimes in old mines, creating contamination in groundwater.

Pizarchik has been with the PADEP since 1991. Before that, he worked for the state’s Department of Transportation. He’s a Penn State graduate and holds a law degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The  citizen group also said:

We need a consensus builder and someone who thinks outside of the box to help solve this nation’s energy challenges, not someone who totes the company line regardless of the impacts.  Now, it is obvious from the TN debacle that disposing of this waste under the guise of beneficial use or as an innocuous substance is a dangerous and ill-considered practice. 

We need new thinking in OSM like Joe Childers or Pat McGinley, not the same old thinking in a different body.  Please do not advocate for this nomination.

Word is that the Obama administration has focused on Pizarchik as their choice for  the Interior Department post, having decided not to go for either West Virginia University law professor Pat McGinley or Kentucky lawyer Joe Childress.

The last public word from the White House or the Interior Department about the OSMRE job came in late April, when Interior staffers claimed the administration had “cast a very wide net” for OSMRE candidates. Those comments came after various citizen groups, along with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, criticized Obama for offering the job to Glenda Owens, a longtime Interior Department employee whose background — reported in detail in Coal Tattoo — didn’t exactly show she was all that interested in cracking down on coal industry abuses.

After tossing aside two very qualified candidates — either of whom would have had the support of coalfield citizen groups (and one of whom, Childers, was being pushed by Congressman Nick Rahall), the Obama folks apparently went shopping for someone from a state strip-mine regulatory agency to fill the OSMRE job.

That sort of a pick might give them the support of states. Other state regulatory agency chiefs would likely back such a pick, and that in turn would give political support from coal state governors.

But how does picking someone from a state agency mesh with one of the Obama administration’s announced goals for dealing with mountaintop removal:

Reevaluate and determine how the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement OSM) will more effectively conduct oversight of state permitting, state enforcement, and regulatory activities under SMCRA.

Unless, of course, by more effectively the Obama folks mean hands off …