House committee calls July 19 hearing to grill administration over coal rule

Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee said July 10 that as part of their investigation into the Obama Administration’s rewrite of a 2008 coal regulation, the Stream Buffer Zone Rule, committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Office of Surface Mining Director Joseph Pizarchik inviting them to testify at a July 19 oversight hearing.

The Republicans said the rewrite would impose new restrictions on coal mining and could cost thousands of jobs, negatively impact the economies of 22 states and significantly harm American energy production. The rule restricts rock and soil from mine sites that can be dumped within 100-foot buffer zones around streams. Such placement of this material is essential to the coal industry in mountainous areas, particularly Central Appalachia. The 2008 rule, done late in the George W. Bush Administration, is considered to be too lenient by environmental groups.

The July 19 hearing will examine the current status of the proposed rewrite, the status of a court settlement agreement providing for the rewrite, and the failure of the Interior Department to comply to date with two subpoenas for documents on the rewrite.

“Shortly after taking office, the Obama Administration discarded the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule that underwent five years of environmental review and public comment,” said a statement from the Republican majority on the committee. “The Obama Administration then entered into a court agreement with environmental groups to rewrite and finalize a new rule by June 29, 2012 – a deadline the Administration has missed without explanation.”

Said the letter from Hastings to Salazar and Pizarchik: “While the Department has largely stonewalled this Congressional investigation, it remains unclear why this rewrite was initiated to begin with, how the rulemaking process is being managed and, significantly, how the Department and OSM are managing and enforcing existing regulations during this time of uncertainty. What is clear is that the 2008 Rule has been cast aside by this Administration, no replacement rule has been completed, and the Department and OSM continue to hide behind claims of secrecy surrounding ‘ongoing rulemaking’ even though the Administration entered into a settlement agreement before a Federal Court to have a new completed, final coal production rule in place by last month. In the continuing effort to achieve compliance and to seek answers and clarity on the Administration’s actions, the Committee will hold the above mentioned oversight hearing to hear directly from the Department.”

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.