The U.S. Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining is holding a public hearing later today at the Charleston Civic Center on the agency’s new Stream Protection Rule for mining operations. We will give OSM credit for at least showing up in West Virginia. When the EPA scheduled public hearings on its Clean Power Plan it conveniently bypassed West Virginia’s coal fields.
So OSM will get an earful from coal miners, their families, and state and local leaders who have seen their livelihood and a critical state industry devastated by a combination of market conditions and one punitive regulation after another from the Obama administration.
In this case, OSM and environmentalists argue the new rules will protect streams from the rocks and dirt that are dumped in the valleys. But the ultimate intent is to add yet another executive fiat that puts an even tighter clamp on the coal industry and bolsters the President’s climate change cred in preparation of the United Nation’s conference in Paris in December.
These rules were supposed to be developed in conjunction with environmental agencies from impacted states. However, OSM was so heavy-handed that a number of states, including West Virginia, withdrew from the process in protest.
“We entered into this agreement in good faith, believing that OSM wanted to engage West Virginia and other coal-producing states as active partners in the development of the Stream Protection Rule,” said state DEP Secretary Randy Huffman last May. “It is clear now that our faith in this relationship was misplaced.”
OSM has changed its tune dramatically on the potential impact the new rules will have on coal field communities.
An initial draft of the Regulatory Impact Analysis concluded the rules would cost 7,000 mining jobs and cause economic harm in 22 states. Small mining companies (those employing fewer than 500 people) would be “economically impacted in a catastrophic way.”
That report would never do, so the Interior Department fired the contractor that reached those conclusions and paid for a new analysis. Now the new rules are supposed to cost only 460 existing jobs, but create 250 new jobs in mine reclamation work.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources has repeatedly criticized the administration and OSM for its handling of the rule-making process and repeated obfuscation when Congress has asked for more information.
As far back as 2012, the Committee released the results of its investigation concluding, “The Obama administration’s campaign to impose this rewritten regulation must be halted and an open, transparent rulemaking that fairly accounts for job and economic impacts must be undertaken.”
But here we are.
If Congress can’t get a straight answer out of the Interior Department and OSM, there’s not much hope tonight’s hearing will produce any sort of mea culpa from the agency. However, at least those government officials will have to see the faces of the West Virginians most directly impacted by these rules.
See the article here.