A Rule Looking for a Purpose
By Brent Wahlquist
The Obama administration smells blood in the water. Its assault on the production and use of coal in the United States has been relentless and is showing no signs of letting up despite the fact that coal production has already dropped by well over 15% since the administration took office. Yet, coal still produces over 40% of the nation’s electricity, as well as serving other industrial uses.
Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rolled out the final version of its Clean Power Plan, a rule designed to further roll back the use of coal in favor of other, more costly means of generating electricity.. Now, in its wake, comes the Department of the Interior (Interior) with its new so called Stream Protection Rule (SPR) designed to curb the production of coal and increase federal intervention into state run regulatory programs. This proposed rule is virtually a total rewrite of its current coal mine permitting, bonding and performance standards, which have been in place for decades. The question is: Why?
Interior is proposing to fix problems that simply don’t exist. Streams are already well protected. Interior’s own annual reviews, prepared by its Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM), of state regulators show outstanding performance with 90 percent of active mining operations free of any off-site impacts. For example, Wyoming, by far the nation’s largest coal producer, was totally free of offsite impacts last year. The current regulatory structure is more than adequate to address those few impacts that do occur in other states for this declining industry.. This is not a record that cries out for a regulatory overhaul.
Furthermore, this new rule, contrary to existing law, duplicates regulations and regulatory authority already firmly established. Water quality is protected by EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state regulatory agencies – all staffed by folks who actually live in the communities where protecting these streams matters most.
To be clear, Interior isn’t asking states to tighten enforcement. Instead, it is amending and modifying nearly every aspect of OSM’s regulatory mission by adding new unnecessary rules and ripping regulatory authority away from state mining regulators where, by Federal statute, it belongs. Interior is giving its U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service veto authority over nearly every proposed mine in the country. This is a particularly curious change since wildlife is already protected under existing rules and every mining permit must already comply with the Endangered Species Act. No issues warranting this new intrusion have been identified.
But perhaps most puzzling and troubling of all, Interior is insisting on pushing aside state regulatory experts even though current law (signed by President Carter), expressly finds that “the primary governmental responsibility for developing, authorizing, issuing and enforcing regulations” for coal mines “should rest with the States.” These state officials are the very ones who, with extensive Federal oversight, perform 97 percent of existing regulatory activity and know local mining operations, waterways and communities best. Yet, despite legal requirements stating otherwise, Interior and OSM have effectively shut them out of the rule-making process for the past six years.
The administration says the SPR is about improving the protection of waterways and wildlife; that is a ruse. The SPR has been carefully constructed to take regulatory authority away from the states so that Interior can assume additional authority and staff it does not need, particularly in the face of an already declining coal industry. At the same time, it fulfills the administration’s goal to make coal – still the nation’s largest and most affordable source of electricity – more difficult to mine in this country.
More than 40,000 coal miners have lost their jobs since 2011. This rule is another front in the Administration’s war on high-paying blue collar jobs while increasing the reach, size, and power of the Federal government.
Brent Wahlquist is a former director of the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. He lives in Parker.
See the article here.
- On November 1, 2015