House panel passes bill halting OSM efforts to rewrite buffer rule

The House Natural Resources Committee on Nov. 14 approved HR 2824, the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act, with a bipartisan vote of 24-15.

This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, and Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., would stop the U.S. Office of Surface Mining from issuing long-promised new standards severely restricting the placement of rock and soil from coal mine sites, which has to be moved aside to expose coal seams for mining, within buffer zones around streams.

Since taking office, said a statement from the committee’s Republican majority about the bill, the Obama Administration has been conducting a “secretive” and “sweeping” rewrite of the Bush Administration’s 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule. The Obama Administration has spent nearly $9m taxpayer dollars working to rewrite this rule, including hiring new contractors, only to dismiss those same contractors once it was publicly revealed that the proposed regulation could cost 7,000 jobs and cause economic harm in 22 states, the GOP statement said.

“President Obama’s relentless attacks on the coal industry, the hard working middle class families whose livelihoods depend on mining, and the businesses that depend on the affordable electricity that coal provides must stop,” said Johnson. “His Administration has spent nearly $9 million conducting its rewrite of the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule, and currently has nothing to show for it. My legislation would begin to put an end to the President’s war on coal by preventing this unnecessary rewrite of the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule from going forward.”

“This legislation will stop the massive ongoing waste currently taking place at the department and save the taxpayers money,” said Lamborn. “It will stop the Administration from continuing with a reckless and unnecessary rulemaking process and imposing a regulation that will directly cost thousands of American jobs and cause significant economic harm.”

The bill says that after all states, which have about two years to do so, certify that they have adopted the 2008 buffer rule into their state mining regulations, then the Secretary of the Interior will spend the next five years after that studying the impact of that regulation. Then Interior will have to submit a report to House and Senate committees about the status of the 2008 rule and any recommendations to change it. That means that it will be around roughly 2020 that Interior and OSM would be a position again to try and change the rule.

This bill seems pretty certain to pass the GOP-controlled House, with the key then being whether a few coal state and energy industry friendly Democrats, like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, in the Democratic majority Senate can be convinced to vote for this measure.

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.