House GOP committee head again subpoenas Interior over coal rule

U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said May 11 that he has issued a second subpoena to the U.S. Interior Department for additional information relating to the Obama Administration’s rewrite of the Stream Buffer Zone Rule.

The second subpoena was issued after Interior failed to fully comply with an April 5 first subpoena for documents sent as part of a more than year-long investigation into the Obama Administration’s rewrite of the buffer rule, which would have a huge impact on coal mining operations, particularly in Appalachia, that need to dump rock and soil from mine sites within 100-foot buffer zones around streams. These regulations could cost thousands of jobs, negatively impact the economies of 22 states and significantly harm American energy production, said Hastings.

“The [April 5] subpoena was narrowly crafted and asked for specific documents and recordings,” said a May 11 letter from Hastings to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “The expectation was that the subpoenaed material would be readily producible by the Department. It is unfortunate that the Department has chosen not to comply with this straightforward request. Department officials and political appointees are not allowed to shield their communications from public scrutiny on the basis that the information may prove embarrassing, especially where, as here, there are very serious questions about how and why this administrative action was initiated and is to be completed on a hastened schedule. The fact that an agency may be in the process of improperly imposing new regulations, eliminating thousands of jobs, and raising energy costs on the American people, is absolutely not a shield against transparency and Congressional oversight. Absent a valid claim of Executive Privilege for these documents, the Department has a duty to fully and promptly comply with both of these duly authorized and issued subpoenas and must do so by May 24, 2012. I am prepared to initiate further action, should the Department continue to refuse to comply.”

The latest subpoena seeks communications within the U.S. Office of Surface Mining and Interior regarding the changes to the Stream Buffer Zone Rule, the decisions to expand the scope of the re-write, and the cost this rewrite will have on the economy. The specific documents sought in the subpoena include:

  • All documents regarding a March 2010 settlement between Coal River Mountain Watch, the National Parks Conservation Association and OSM “requiring OSM to make their best efforts to sign a final action on the proposed [Stream Protection] Rule no later than Friday, June 29, 2012”;
  • All documents, including emails or memoranda, regarding the decision not to rely on the environmental impact statement (EIS) or regulatory impact analysis (RIA) for the more industry-friendly 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule issued by the Bush Administration and to conduct a new EIS and RIA to support the new buffer zone proposal.
  • All documents, including emails or memoranda, regarding OSM’s costs and benefits analysis of the Stream Protection Rule.
  • All documents, including emails or memoranda, within and between Interior, OSM and various other government agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, related to this rule.

“The Department’s April 12 and April 27, 2012 responses failed to comply with this duly authorized and issued subpoena,” wrote Hastings in the Salazar letter about the results from the first subpoena. “The Department’s April 12 response provided only 7 documents, of these many were heavily redacted, approximately half had already been produced by the Office of Management and Budget without the need of a subpoena, and one of the documents is readily available online. The Department’s April 27 production provided only 11 documents, including duplicates of the same documents or of documents previously provided, and again more transcripts that were so heavily redacted that there is no relevant information to be gathered from them. Both productions lacked an index to identify any withheld documents, and failed to assert any constitutional privilege to justify any such withheld documents as was required by the Subpoena.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.