Coal Tattoo

Regular readers know that I’ve been a little suspicious from the beginning about this controversy over the leaked portions of the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s “Environmental Impact Statement” on its efforts to rewrite the federal stream buffer zone rule (see previous posts here, here and here).

So it was certainly interesting this morning when a House Natural Resources subcommittee posted the witness list and then the prepared testimony of a couple of the subcontractors who worked on that study and apparently were involved in preparing the questionable estimates of the buffer zone rewrite’s potential economic impacts. Remember now that the mining industry and its political friends have made much of these estimates, and used them to continue their efforts to discredit and block Obama administration efforts to reduce the impacts of mountaintop removal.

Today’s witness list includes two speakers who worked for ESCI LLC, an engineering firm that apparently was a subcontractor for Polu Kai Services, which was working with OSMRE to write the EIS for the “stream protection rule,” or the agency’s proposals to rewrite the buffer zone regulation.

One witness, J. Steven Garder, president and CEO of ECSI, says in his prepared testimony that OSMRE officials tried to get contractors to change the results of their economic analysis to get different results:

A joint PKS and OSM team meeting was held in February in OSM’s offices in DC. During this meeting, OSM “suggested” that the PKS team revisit the production impacts and associated job loss numbers, and with different assumptions that would then change the final outcome to show less of an impact. The EIS team unanimously told OSM that it was not appropriate to change assumptions just to get a different answer. The team was also very concerned with the specific instruction from OSM to make the assumption that the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone (SBZ) Rule was in effect and being enforced across the U.S., which was not true. No state with an approved SMCRA program had promulgated the 2008 SBZ Rule, especially since the rule itself was subject to the litigation which brought about the SPR. If the PKS team assumed that the 2008 SBZ was in effect as part of the baseline existing environment, the nexus from the SBZ to the SPR would show less production, and therefore less job loss impact. The PKS team unanimously refused to use a “fabricated” baseline scenario to soften the production loss numbers.

The other witness, Joseph J. Zaluski, executive vice president of ECSI, makes similar allegations in his prepared testimony and says that OSMRE officials misled Congress about how the EIS process worked:

Contrary to the Director’s intimation that the subcontractors were inept, I believe that the train wreck of an attempt at an EIS was caused by OSM’s constant change in direction, instructions, assumptions and restrictions.

But frankly,what interested me was less what these two gentlemen had to say and more the fact that they were so involved in working on the economic analysis for OSMRE. Why?

Well, Steven J. Gardner is a longtime coal industry advocate who has made his views of the Obama administration’s efforts to better regulate mountaintop removal pretty clear in media interviews, such as this one with the Hazard Herald:

“EPA says it’s basing [permitting decisions] on science,” said Steve Gardner, president of Engineering Consulting Services in Lexington, Ky. “It’s more political science than hard science.”

… Gardner says the theory of effect on the food chain and downstream waters is not proven: ”The science has not been done to support that argument.”


And Joe Zaluski? Well, he’s not only on the staff of Gardner’s consulting firm, but he’s also a longtime coal industry lawyer with the firm of Wyatt, Tarrant and Combs. (He at one point many years ago represented coal companies that were trying to have the 1977 federal strip-mining law declared unconstitutional).

Now, I’m not saying that these two gentlemen don’t know a lot about coal mining and the coal industry. But the fact that they were this involved in the OSMRE study and are now out there criticizing what the agency was doing certainly sheds some interesting light on this whole situation … Stay tuned …