Thursday, October 26, 2017

Trump picks Ky. engineer to run strip-mine agency

J. Steven Gardner
President Trump has nominated a Kentucky mining engineer, J. Steven Gardner, to head the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in the Interior Department. OSM, as it is generally called, oversees state regulation of strip mining and the surface effects of underground mining. In a few states, it directly enforces the 1977 federal strip-mine law.

Gardner "was a frequent critic of environmental rules during the Obama administration, including those from the OSM," Devin Henry reports for The Hill. "In a February op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Gardner celebrated the repeal of an OSM rule protecting streams from coal mining waste. . . . When Gardner's name was floated for the position in August, the Sierra Club called him a 'horrible choice'." In Kentucky public-policy circles, he is known as an effective advocate who is willing to consider the other side's arguments.

Kentucky Resources Council Executive Director Tom FitzGerald, the state's leading environmental lawyer-lobbyist, told the Herald-Leader, “I think his great challenge will be stepping out of a role as a very visible pro-coal partisan, into the job heading an agency that was charged with protecting the public and the environment from the adverse effects of surface coal mining. I wish him every success in making that transition.”

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Mining interests and Republican political leaders saluted the pick. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, “Steve will be a strong leader and I look forward to the U.S. Senate considering his nomination.” The White House notice of Gardner's appointment said he was president of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration. in 2015, was a member of the Kentucky Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Surveyors, and has served on the Kentucky Geological Survey advisory board.

In a statement issued by the Interior Department, Gardner said, "My whole life, I have been involved with mining on multiple levels, and I understand the importance of these issues to the communities we serve. I pledge to work every day on behalf of the men and women across this country who look to the OSM office as a partner in bettering life for all people on mining lands."

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