Via E&E News:
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Republicans pelted a top Interior Department official with tough, rapid-fire questions yesterday on the agency’s proposed stream protection rule.
GOP members of two panel subcommittees expressed deep skepticism toward the Obama administration’s assertion that the rule would not have a significant negative impact on the economy or mining jobs.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) asked, “How confident are you that your projection on job loss gets an A?” He added, “I talked to all my coal states, and they say this will kill them.”
Janice Schneider, assistant Interior secretary for land and minerals management, said the impact would be “minimal” and “largely offset” by compliance-related jobs. “So essentially, a wash,” she said.
Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) was skeptical of any job creation. “There’s no industry in those communities except those coal jobs,” Johnson said, dismissing Schneider’s examples.
Schneider rebutted a report released by the National Mining Association that said the proposal would eliminate tens of thousands of mining jobs and put tons of coal off-limits.
Schneider said the industry-backed analysis contains “significantly flawed assumptions,” including claims that the rule would dramatically hurt underground longwall mining, which can affect land and waterways above ground.
House Republicans, mostly on the Natural Resources Committee, have been probing the rulemaking for years, particularly since leaked preliminary documents showed it could jeopardize thousands of jobs. Schneider said those documents were not accurate.
Interior Subcommittee Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis (R), from the top coal-mining state of Wyoming, urged Schneider to release an unredacted Office of Inspector General report on former Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement contractors working on the rule and claims that the agency pressed them to alter job-loss numbers.
The OIG found no wrongdoing (E&ENews PM, Dec. 20, 2013). But GOP leaders have for years been asking for an unredacted copy, which they say could contain evidence of an anti-coal agenda within the administration.
Schneider touted the president’s plan to help communities displaced by coal’s downturn and regulations, including speeding up the spending of $1 billion in abandoned coal mine funding. The administration has been looking for a sponsor for legislation.
Beyond jobs, Lummis said OSMRE “shut out the states” by not sharing rulemaking documents following the leak and before this year’s public release.
Lummis, like the mining industry, said the agency’s actions raise questions about “whether OSM followed administrative procedures in drafting the rule.”
Schneider read a list of meetings with states on the rulemaking. “We are really trying to make sure that we understand and hear directly with state regulatory authorities,” she said.
Lawmakers also wanted to know how the rule treats the definition of regulated waterways. Schneider said it conforms to Army Corps of Engineers definitions rather than U.S. EPA’s new disputed Clean Water Act jurisdiction rule. Critics say the rule’s relying on corps definitions could make the rule legally vulnerable.
Lummis called on Schneider to either scratch the proposal and start over or pause the process to make states more comfortable. Schneider said people still had a chance to affect the rulemaking.
Democrats raised concerns about mountaintop-removal coal mining. While the proposal would not ban the practice, it would increase reforestation and reduce buried waterways.
Interior Subcommittee ranking member Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) defended the rulemaking, saying “existing rules do not offer enough protections.” She added, “The net effect on jobs would be zero. The importance of clean water cannot be understated.”
See the article here.
- On December 9, 2015