Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Top coal reporter says real issue behind OSM and BLM merger being ignored: citizens' complaints

Over a month after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement would be folded into the Bureau of Land Management, he took action Monday that will delay the merger until February, Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette reports. A statement from the secretary's press office says this will allow more comments from interested parties. Ward reports coal industry officials, state regulators and coal-state lawmakers have voiced concern.

On his blog, Coal Tattoo, Ward attempts to weed through the red tape and explain what he says is a "pretty bizarre" situation. He says industry officials, coal-state lawmakers and congressional friends of the industry complain about the Environmental Protection Agency's recent crackdown on surface mining, and about OSM's enforcement; but they want OSM to remain a separate agency. Ward sums it up this way: "That same axis of powerful players appears almost desperate to stop the Obama Interior Department from doing what they usually are all about demanding - saving some money by consolidating some functions of two related government agencies." He suggests the industry wants to protect OSM because it's perceived to be closer to the industry than the EPA and more likely to craft regulation and policies favorable to the industry.

Ward says there are few people actually focusing on the real issue behind the merger. He references comments from West Virginia University law professor Pat McGinley from a Senate committee hearing two weeks ago to explain: "Many coalfield citizens who understand the role of OSM under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 feel that Secretary Salazar’s issuance of Order 3315 shows a fundamental disrespect for them and their communities. I suspect, however, that the decision to issue this order was grounded in a failure to recognize and appreciate the mission of the long beleaguered OSM," a mission in which OSM field representatives take citizen complaints and concerns very seriously, and something that isn't referenced in the order to combine OSM with the Bureau of Land Management. (Read more)

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