Here’s the news that the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement waited until after the close of business on Friday to put out: The agency lost “two or three boxes” — I guess they’re not sure which — containing more than 18,000 public comments on the Bush administration’s changes to the stream “buffer zone” rule made in 2008.
In this “fact sheet and background information” sent to the media, OSMRE spokesman Chris Holmes explained it all this way:
When OSM discovered and verified the inadvertent loss of some public comments that were part of a mass mailing, it moved quickly to advise both the court and the group that submitted the comments in 2007. OSM retained a sample of the comments and a record of the number of comments received. The sample adequately represented the group’s position, and OSM addressed the comments’ substance in promulgating the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule. The addition of substantially identical comments would not have influenced the rule’s content. However, OSM takes seriously the need to retain all public comments, especially those under a litigation hold, and OSM Director Joe Pizarchik has ordered the immediate development of new controls under which public comments submitted in the future will be safeguarded.
There’s more about all of this here, in a memo from OSMRE Director Joe Pizarchik. The above-noted “fact sheet and background information” identifies these as “substantially identical” comments submitted by the environmental group Earthjustice, which opposed — and then successfully sued to challenge — the Bush administration’s weakening of the “buffer zone” rule. This is apparently what OSMRE says happened:
OSM staff charged with maintaining the rule’s Administrative Record examined the submission and selected a representative sample that reasonably represented the comments. This sample was retained apart from the boxed comments. When the office used to store the comments became overcrowded, the boxes were moved to an adjacent office. More than five years later, OSM directed that the adjacent room be cleaned out. Sometime in 2012, the boxes of duplicate comments were inadvertently discarded.
Keep in mind that House Republicans and the coal industry have been trying their best to depict the Obama administration’s efforts to rewrite the Bush Administration’s rewrite of this rule as part of the “war on coal,” as more evidence of the administration’s hostility to the coal industry and coziness with environmental groups …