Via E&E Publishing:
The Interior Department’s proposed rule to protect waterways from coal mining could end up costing the U.S. economy more than 200,000 jobs, said a report prepared for the National Mining Association (NMA).
The document, prepared by consultant Ramboll Environ Inc., directly contradicts the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s own peer-reviewed economic analysis for the so-called stream protection rule.
The industry-backed study comes as OSMRE closes the comment period on the proposal, and before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds its first hearing in years on the controversial rulemaking tomorrow.
Ramboll Environ says the rule would jeopardize between 112,757 and 280,809 mining and closely related jobs, potentially killing more than 70 percent of current levels. The rule would affect both surface and underground mining, the report says.
Mining companies would be unable to mine significant amounts of coal reserves, said the document, costing governments between $3.1 billion and $6.4 billion in tax revenues.
“With this massive re-write of 475 existing rules and the addition of many new ones, the [stream protection rule] is a text book example of how an agency — oblivious to the costs and the absence of any necessity for its rule making — abuses its authority for the sole purpose of expanding its budget and mission at public expense,” NMA CEO Hal Quinn said in a statement.
Ramboll Environ evaluated 36 current and surface mining operations around the country for its report. Mine managers reported on the rule’s potential impacts, not assuming worst-case scenarios, said the 82-page document.
“For several of these operations, the proposed rule implies closing operations due to restrictions in access, increased costs and uncertainty regarding the interpretation of imprecise regulatory language,” said the report.
Beyond mining companies, states are also calling on OSMRE to scrap the rulemaking. The Interstate Mining Compact Commission (IMCC) wants the agency to start over and pay more attention to local regulator concerns.
“Looking at this rulemaking as a whole, IMCC member states see it as a squandered opportunity for OSMRE,” the IMCC said in its comments.
The IMCC, a union of mining states, says OSMRE failed to account for the rule’s impact on state regulatory agencies. The group says it will strain already-stretched resources.
“Time and again throughout the Proposed Rule,” said IMCC, “OSMRE demonstrates its lack of understanding how states have handled the various permitting requirements and performance standards that this expansive rule addresses.”
The stream protection rule’s potential impacts have for years been fodder for debate, particularly after documents leaked in 2011 suggesting an early version of the proposal could cost several thousand mining jobs.
When releasing the proposal in July, after years of development, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell described it as a balance between protecting the environment and the economy. She said its job impacts would be “relatively minor,” potentially resulting in the loss of “a couple of hundred jobs.”
Janice Schneider, Interior’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management, set to testify during the Senate hearing tomorrow, said the rules included “common-sense, straightforward reforms” to “keep pace with changing technology and modern mining practices.”
OSMRE’s regulatory impact analysis said the proposal could eliminate an average of 260 jobs a year over the next two decades and cost $50 million a year, plus hit state severance tax receipts. The rule could also create roughly 250 jobs a year in implementation activities.
The idea behind the rulemaking, says OSMRE, is to better implement the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. But the proposal would also have an impact on underground mining when it affects resources above.
Longwall underground mining has long been a target of environmentalists because the more efficient extraction practice can also lead to immediate ground subsidence and stream impacts.
Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corp., said the rule’s effects on underground mining were fatal to his business. He recently sued OSMRE for more documents on the rulemaking.
OSMRE Director Joseph Pizarchik said during a conference call in July that the stream protection rule would only have a “minimal” impact on longwall mining.
‘Jettison’ buffer zone?
Environmental advocates are defending OSMRE’s proposal but also calling for stronger protections. They say OSMRE should have strengthened a hard buffer between mining activities and waterways.
The Kentucky chapter of the Sierra Club wrote in a comment letter last month: “While we are extremely disappointed that OSM is proposing to jettison the stream buffer zone and thus allow continued dumping of mining waste into streams, we are pleased that OSM is finally taking steps to update its regulations and we are especially pleased to see OSM’s proposal to increase the requirements for baseline data collection and monitoring of pollution from mining operations.”
Thom Kay, legislative associate for the group Appalachian Voices, which has long been calling for a stronger buffer, used the issue to rebut the NMA-backed study.
“The strangest part of the NMA study is how it pretends to interpret the language of the draft SPR. In reality, the 100-foot stream buffer zone has been all but eliminated. And yet the NMA expects people to believe that this rule would forbid mining activity in or near streams,” he said.
He added, “That’s not how we interpret it, that’s not how OSMRE interprets it, and it’s certainly not how state regulators in places like West Virginia and Kentucky are going to interpret it.”
The proposal says it would reduce the length of waterways affected by mountaintop-removal coal mining, but not eliminate the practice altogether.
Pizarchik said current law allowed the burying of streams under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, overseen by U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Pizarchik defended the new buffer proposal, saying it would conform to an area’s hydrology. He said the buffer could be smaller or wider than current standards, which date back to the early 1980s.
Last year, a federal judge scrapped a stream rule promulgated under President George W. Bush in litigation by environmental groups. OSMRE did not fight to keep the previous administration’s rule in place.
See the article here.
- On October 26, 2015