Coal Tattoo

The budget sequester and coal

I thought I would pass on a few interesting things that crossed my desk about the potential impacts of the budget “sequester” on coal-mining programs run by the federal government.

First, regarding coal-mine safety, Acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris had this to say about the potential effects on the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) will adjust funding to complete 100 percent of its mandatory coal inspections, but it will likely not be able to do the same for the mandatory metal/nonmetal mine inspections. In addition, many of the most effective activities that have caught grave workplace conditions — impact inspections, technical investigations, respirable coal-mine dust inspections, and accident prevention investigations — will be significantly reduced, potentially leading to an increase in the fatality and injury rates amount miners.

The Department remains committed in implementing the recommendations from the Internal Review of MSHA’s actions at the Upper Big Branch Mine, but progress on this will have to be delayed. Both MSHA and the Office of the Solicitor (SOL) will have to scale back work on the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission backlog project, which will likely increase the backlog of current contested cases.

And over at the Interior Department, when the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement was announcing its annual abandoned mine reclamation grants to states, OSM officials warned:

The annual announcement of the grants is traditionally done in December. The announcement was delayed by preparations for the potential sequester now scheduled to take place on March 1. The grant amounts announced today make available 90 percent of AML grant funding that each eligible state and tribe would normally receive, because ten percent of the funds are being held back pending the sequester. OSM has worked with states and tribes to provide as much assistance as possible in advance of the release of AML funding, and the bureau will continue to offer support to AML programs nationwide. The hold back of ten percent in anticipation of the sequester will have impacts on communities across the Nation, the American people, and the environment.

The reduction in AML funding means that about 50 abandoned mine land projects will not be reclaimed. This will impact an estimated 22,500 citizens who will continue to be exposed to mine-related hazards such as open mine shafts and portals, mine fires, dangerous highwalls, landslides, and mine subsidence. More than 1,800 acres of polluted or degraded mine lands will not be cleaned up, and over $4.3 million will not be set aside for cleanup of mine-related water pollution. There are economic impacts as well; the reduction in funds means a reduction in contracts and jobs in the local community.