The Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, the Citizens Coal Council and other environmental groups are calling President Obama's plan to fold the federal Office of Surface Mining into the Bureau of Land Management a threat to the $1.4 billion in federal funds due to Pennsylvania to reclaim abandoned mine lands and weaken surface mining regulation.
"(Pennsylvania) has developed a foward thinking, visionary program for restoring the more than 5,500 miles of dead streams utilizing funds collected, held and distributed by OSM," said John Dawes, Executive Director of the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds. "To move the Abandoned Mine Land Program and its finances into an agency whose main purpose is to lease federal lands would be a disservice to all Pennsylvanians working diligently to restore our streams and abandoned mine lands.
"Pennsylvanians worked very hard to secure the future of the Abandoned Mine Land Fund for the purpose of restoring land and streams in this state. We fear that BLM will have little interest in seeing the culmination of our hard work," added Dawes.
“This scheme is illegal and defies common sense,” said Aimee Erickson, Executive Director of the Citizens Coal Council. While the many devils in the yet-to-be-released details of the Salazar OSM-BLM merger scheme already raise many serious and practical objections, the illegality of the proposed bureaucratic entanglement makes the proposal a non-starter.
Alabama-based Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen adds, "Even though Secretary Salazar has already refused to fully enforce the federal law that requires OSM to protect communities, land, water and wildlife against abuses by the coal mining industry, it is shocking that he would now propose to bury this half-alive independent regulatory agency inside the Bureau of Land Management, whose mission includes promoting coal development.”
"We are concerned that one of the motives for the Obama administration's effort to destroy OSM's independent regulatory status is to capture, and use for deficit reduction, the billions of dollars in coal industry fees OSM administers to clean up some of the thousands of miles of poisoned streams caused by abandoned coal mines,” stated Erickson.
"Secretary Salazar and the White House know that eliminating OSM's independent regulatory role and taking the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund are blatantly illegal, so they are really sending a signal to the Super Committee to use its deficit reduction authority to weaken OSM's environmental protection and dilute BLM's resource management effectiveness in ways that Congress itself would never allow."
“Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is quite correct in her understanding of federal law in stating that Congressional approval is required to make any such changes to OSM,” said Ms. Erickson.
As Sen. Murkowski elaborated in her press release of October 27: “OSM was specifically established as a separate entity, reporting directly to the Interior Secretary, to protect its independence as a regulatory body. I want to make sure that‟s protected. The proposed merger of BLM – the entity responsible for leasing – and OSM – the regulatory body – seems to fly in the face of the arguments DOI used to support establishing the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement as an independent entity to regulate offshore oil development, separate from BOEMRE, which handles offshore leasing.”
Numerous organizations, from national-level to small grassroots groups, from every region of the United States echo these concerns.
“Westerners have seen the poor reclamation performance of BLM in the areas of hardrock mining, coalbed methane, oil and gas development, and uranium; we do not believe that a merger of OSM into BLM will improve OSM‟s efforts in coal reclamation. Secretary Salazar wants to merge an l872 law with a modern law, and the results will be unfortunate,” said Ellen Pfister, a Montana rancher and member of the Northern Plains Resource Council Coal Task Force.
While Secretary Salazar also states that the move is in the interest of "making the most of limited resources,‟ the Citizens Coal Council asserts that any so-called savings claimed by the Obama Administration‟s scheme will be illusory.
Secretary Salazar expressly states in his memorandum to the Directors of the OSM and the BLM that he will seek input from the White House, the Office of Budget and Management, employees and applicable congressional committees. However, as Ms. Erickson pointed out, “it adds insult to injury that the Secretary didn‟t even consult with America‟s coalfield citizens, and we are the ones who will be affected the most.”
What You Can Do
With federal action expected as soon as November 11, Dawes and others are urging concerned citizens and groups to write Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Pat Toomey to bring this issue to his attention. A sample letter was provided to guide those interested in raising this issue.
For more information, contact John Dawes by sending email to: John_Dawes@mail.vresp.com or call 814-386-2860.