OSMRE extends stream rule comment period; coal association says rule a bad idea

The U.S. Department of the Interior and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) announced Sept. 10 that the formal public comment period for the proposed Stream Protection Rule, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that supports the proposed rule, and the associated Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) will be extended until Oct. 26.

Interior and OSMRE announced the proposed rule on July 16. This extension provides interested parties with more than 100 days to review and comment on the three documents.

“We have already received several comments that make it clear that many people have read the proposed rule and the associated DEIS and RIA,” said OSMRE Director Joe Pizarchik. “The additional time will ensure that everyone will have more than enough time to evaluate the documents we provided earlier this summer.”

OSMRE as of Sept. 10 had completed two of the six public hearing scheduled across the country through Sept. 17.

The Illinois Coal Association on Sept. 10 applauded the extension, while adding that the stream rule is another in the latest regulatory overkill for the Obama Administration. Over the past six years, OSMRE has been working to rewrite the laws that govern how mines operate, the association added. In total more than 475 rules have been amended and modified, and new ones have been added in the more than 6,000 pages of documents recently released.

Miners, the companies that employ them and the Illinois Coal Association say even the additional few weeks given for comment on the stream rule does not provide enough time to review such an important series of changes.

“These rules changes are a massive overhaul of federal mining regulations and could result in the elimination of many good paying jobs in the area,” said Phil Gonet, president of the association.

Over the past few years, roughly 40,000 mining jobs have been lost in the country. If these rules changes go through, the Illinois association estimates as many as 80,000 mining jobs could be lost without any benefit to the environment.

At a Sept. 10 hearing on the proposed Stream Protection Rule in Pittsburgh, OSMRE “got an earful of testimony from coal operators, environmental engineers and businesses who testified against yet another costly and overreaching Federal regulation,” said the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance in a Sept. 10 statement.

Because of the enormity of this rule and its many implications for Pennsylvania, which already has its own successful program, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as well as members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation requested a 120-day extension to review and comment on the rule, the alliance said. OSM responded with the 30-day extension.

“Through these blanket, national regulations, it has been made clear OSMRE doesn’t consider, or plan to consider the exacerbated costs associated with the immense number of overreaching compliance requirements,” said alliance CEO John Pippy. “This will force coal to become unprofitable and impossible to extract, ultimately stranding 200 years’ worth of this domestic energy resource, billions for the state economy and thousands of Pennsylvania jobs.”

“Since the 1980s the water quality of Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams has improved, demonstrating that the current regulations are working as intended,” said Ron Musser, a Geologist at Musser Engineering. “The impacts of these relentless, additional regulations on the coal industry are real. Production is down and they are tightening their belts. We have already had to reduce our own operation by five people. What is the OSM pretending to try and fix and at what cost?”

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.