Friday, August 04, 2017

Strip-mine law turns 40 years old; under Trump, there are questions about its enforcement agency

Forty years ago yesterday, President Jimmy Carter signed the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act, versions of which President Gerald Ford had twice vetoed. Dylan Brown of Greenwire took the opportunity to look at the strip-mine law and the federal agency that enforces it, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, generally called OSM.

Typically for a relatively new regulator of a controversial and contentious industry, "Greens see OSMRE as being beholden to companies and industry-friendly states, while mining interests decry a heavy hand, particularly during the Obama years," Brown reports.

The two sides also disagree on OSM's management of money gleaned from the law's tax on coal that funds reclamation of mine sites abandoned before its passage. "According to OSMRE, $5.5 billion out of nearly $8.5 billion in fees made available for reclamation has been dispersed, but at least $10 billion of high-priority reclamation work is left nationwide, Brown writes, quoting a citizen critic:

"Some of us, including me, were dumb enough to think if we had the law, everything was going to be all right," said Ellen Pfister, a rancher and advocate with the Northern Plains Resource Council. "That has not been the case. So you have to keep your attention focused on it. That's what some of us have done for the rest of our lives."

The Trump administration has killed the "stream protection rule" that the industry said would prevent most strip mining, but has not yet named an OSM director to replace Joseph Pizarchik, the director who issued the rule. Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt presided at a staff-only meeting to observe the anniversary, Brown reports.

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