Senators are challenging the number of coalfield jobs that could be lost as a result of implementing the Obama administration’s Stream Protection Rule.
The Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement (OSM) believes the rule would shed less than 300 jobs — most of which would be replaced.
However, a new study paid for by the coal industry’s lobbying group found upward of 78,000 jobs could be lost in the coalfields if the rule is implemented.
The report states the Stream Protection Rule would eliminate between 40,000 and 78,000 coal miners in an industry that has already lost more than 40,000 jobs since 2011. When including employment in coal-dependent industries, it predicted the jobless toll could rise as high as 281,000.
“OSM’s insistence that job losses would be minimal is derived from its evaluation of hypothetical model mines,” the study reads.
The study’s job loss projections are derived from data gathered at 36 actual operating mines, surface as well as underground, it states.
The resulting massive job loss projection stems from the rule’s devastating impact on the coal resource. The study concludes that between one-fourth to two-thirds of total U.S. recoverable coal reserves would be uneconomic under OSM’s rule, owing to comprehensive constraints placed on both surface and underground mining operations.
Removing this volume of coal from mining operations, valued at between $14 billion and $29 billion, would eliminate potential tax revenue to federal and local communities of between $3.1 billion and $6.4 billion each year.
The report states that despite the destructive economic impacts, the SPR would nevertheless accomplish no environmental purpose. OSM’s own data show that in states accounting for almost 75 percent of the nation’s coal production, between 95 and 100 percent of coal operations have no off-site impacts, according to the report.
During a congressional hearing last week, Janice Schneider, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for land and mineral management, criticized the study, stating it gets the rule wrong.
“The analysis appears to assume that the proposed rule would prohibit longwall mining. That is not correct,” she said at last week’s hearing, explaining longwall is a type of underground mining. “And all of the numbers on job losses appear to flow from very conservative estimates that longwall mining would not be allowed.”
The stream rule would implement a new series of standards and requirements to ensure that surface and other types of mines do not unnecessarily harm streams and the ecosystems and wildlife that depend on them.
It is aimed mostly at stopping the worst effects of mountaintop removal mining, in which mountains are blasted apart and the waste material is often put into stream valleys.
Sen. Joe Manchin, who serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee, asked government officials and environmentalists, “Is there a war on coal?”
Jim Hecker, an attorney for Public Justice, denied there is a war. Instead, he said, regulations are needed to “level the playing field, so that the coal industry meets the same standards other industries do.”
Manchin then questioned Hecker if water quality has improved, which the attorney agreed it has. Yet, certain elements, such as selenium, are still a problem, Hecker contended.
West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Cabinet Secretary Randy Huffman was asked by Manchin if it is feasible for the state to try to meet the requirements of the proposed Stream Protection Rule.
Huffman said improvements are continuously being made via science and impact of third party lawsuits in protecting the state’s environment. Addressing selenium, which is found in metal sulfide ores, where it partly replaces the sulfur, Huffman said the toxicity and dangers of the chemical “are overstated and used to express damages in the coalfields that simply are not occurring.”
In his closing comments Manchin said government and environmentalists do not understand the country could not function without coal.
“Nobody seems to want to come to a balance that we can provide between the environment and the economy and that’s the biggest frustration,” said Manchin.
In a statement Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said no one cares more about West Virginia’s streams and water quality than those living in the Mountain State.
“This far-reaching regulation fails to consider the benefits our state’s mining operations provide to West Virginia’s economy,” she said, echoing Manchin’s closing remarks to the committee.
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- On November 3, 2015