Coal Tattoo

House panel moves to block OSMRE-BLM merger

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The Obama administration’s proposal to merge the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement continues to draw a lot of interest this week, with action to block the proposal in a House committee and a hearing today in a Senate committee.

Here’s the news from the House Natural Resources Committee:

Today, the House Natural Resources Committee approved an amendment by voice vote, to H.R. 3404, offered by Rep. Bill Johnson (OH-06). The amendment was a rejection of the Obama Administration’s recently announced intentions to merge the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Specifically, the amendment keeps OSM and BLM separate, independent agencies in the Department of the Interior and under the purview of the Under Secretary for Energy, Lands and Minerals.

Rep. Johnson said:

I’m pleased the Committee approved my amendment to protect the integrity of these two separate but equally important agencies. The attempt to merge these two agencies is yet another action by the Obama Administration in its ongoing war on American coal. There are serious statutory concerns with the Interior Department’s unilateral decision to merge OSM within BLM that could ultimately affect thousands of hardworking coal miners.

This amendment protects American jobs, ensures that the Obama Administration cannot skirt the laws passed by Congress, and guarantees these two agencies stay distinct entities within Interior Department while maintaining their individual, critical missions

Protects American jobs? Seriously now. This has to be one of the more baffling moves by coal’s friends among our nation’s political leadership. I have yet to hear anyone really explain exactly how it is that folding what little is left of OSMRE into the BLM for some administrative purposes amounts to a new front in the “war on coal.” Wouldn’t weakening OSMRE do more to get the federal government out of the business of overseeing coal, and isn’t that what the industry really wants?

Maybe I’ll get some answers to those questions when I watch the rest of the archived webcast of this morning’s hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, in which Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes defended the merger proposal and witnesses from state agencies, environmental groups and the industry also testified.

In his prepared testimony, Hayes (pictured above) explained things this way:

The hope and expectation is that the consolidation process that the Department is now launching will strengthen the OSM’s capabilities by making the most of available efficiencies in organizations, aligning programs where possible and appropriate, eliminating duplication and optimizing effectiveness. The enforcement and regulatory functions of the OSM would remain separate from BLM’s leasing activities. The focus of the consolidation is on those OSM and BLM functions that are complementary, including environmental restoration activities and administrative support functions.

Stay tuned, because my guess is this issue will come up again tomorrow morning, when the House Natural Resources Committee has a hearing that is supposed to focus on OSMRE’s buggled proposal to rewrite the stream buffer zone rule.