Coal Tattoo

Coal states oppose increased OSMRE oversight


Coal-mining states and their regulatory agencies are starting a fight against efforts by the Obama administration to increase its oversight of how those states police strip-mining.

Last week, the Interstate Mining Compact Commission issued a letter blasting the OSMRE plan, saying it would “seriously encroach upon and likely erode” the rights of states to regulate strip-mining within their borders under the 1977 strip mining law.

I’ve posted a copy of the letter here, and OSMRE has more information on its proposals here. Interestingly, OSMRE just announced on Tuesday — not long after the commission letter — that it would extend the public comment period on its proposals for increased oversight of state regulatory programs.

pizarchik.JPGThis will be a big test for OSMRE Director Joe Pizarchik — will he stand up to the states and continue this increased oversight plan? Remember that citizen groups opposed Pizarchik’s confirmation to the OSMRE job, but that he recently promised to take steps to reduce the impacts of mining on the environment and on coalfield communities. See previous posts here, here and here.


Perhaps even more importantly, it’s a big test for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the White House. Note that Greg Conrad, director of the Interstate Mining Compact Commission, addressed his letter of complaint not directly to Pizarchik — but over Pizarchik’s head, to Salazar and to Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. If the group wanted to play nice, why didn’t it just submit this letter as part of the public comment period, instead of raising the stakes?

Are Salazar, Sutley and President Obama serious about the administration’s promise to take unprecedented steps to minimize the impacts of strip mining?

If so, coalfield citizens and most experts on the problems caused by strip mining agree that a key step is to revitalize OSMRE,  an agency that has never, ever lived up to its promise.

But this plan for increased oversight of state programs like West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection has certainly rubbed the Interstate Mining Compact Commission the wrong way. What is this group anyway, you ask? Well, the IMCC describes itself this way:

The Interstate Mining Compact Commission is a multi-state governmental agency / organization that represents the natural resource interests of its member states. First envisioned in 1964, the Commission came into existence in 1970 with the entry of its first four states. Since that time, 19 additional states have enacted legislation bringing them into the Compact, and 5 additional states have become associate members as they pursue enactment of legislation which will make them full members. The Commission established its headquarters in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. in 1988. The states are officially represented by their Governors who serve as Commissioners. The Commission operates through several committees composed of duly appointed representatives of the Governors from their respective Departments of Natural Resources or Environmental Protection.

Among other things, the IMCC objects to the notion that OSMRE will begin conducting its own inspections of active mining sites, without first warning state officials about the inspection and giving them the chance to come along. But the IMCC just basically wants OSMRE to leave states alone, saying:

Given the scope of the ‘oversight improvement’ initiative, it also appears  to be based on a false assumption that states are not adequately regulating the coal mining industry nationwide. Nothing could be further from the truth.

OK … you have to wonder if the IMCC ever got a copy of the federal government’s programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on Mountaintop Mining/Valley fills.

Anyway,  the IMCC also demands:

Before proceeding with this ill-fated initiative, we believe that the administration should seriously revisit the need for these actions in light of the effectiveness of the existing oversight process. If you choose to continue moving forward, we request that you provide a detailed basis for doing so. 

Stay tuned …