An order beginning the merger of the federal department that regulates surface mining with the Bureau of Land Management is set to take effect in two weeks. The consolidation was the subject of a hearing today before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The only people at the hearing before the committee who seemed to be in favor of the merger were the representatives from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the Department of the Interior. Everyone else—from senators to representatives from state programs—criticized Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s proposal and complained that the DOI hadn’t sought any input on the merger before issuing the order.
West Virginia University professor Pat McGinley testified on behalf of coalfield citizens. He says the order represents a lack of understanding of the intent of the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, or SMCRA, passed by the 95th Congress.
“It is clear that coalfield citizens who are coal miners, coalfield communities, they were a primary focus as well as ensuring the nation’s coal production,” he said. “The message that the 95th Congress sent appears to have not sunk in at the secretarial level.”
The DOI argues the integration would strengthen the federal mine oversight programs. It’s proposing that some of OSM’s administrative and reclamation activities be folded into BLM.
Testifying before the Senate, Interior deputy secretary David Hayes says it’s clear that regulatory oversight over surface mining should clearly be kept separate from the leasing activities of the BLM.
“The Office of Surface Mining should have nothing to do with leasing,” Hayes said. “That’s clear from SMCRA. That’s why it has to continue to be an independent organization with a director that’s appointed and confirmed by the Senate.”
But others question whether the move is even legal, because the surface mine law mandates the creation of the OSM and its regulation of the federal abandoned mine lands program.
The House Natural Resources committee also has doubts about the merger, and has moved to block it.
The order becomes effective December 1, and DOI officials are required to create a schedule for implementing the merger by March.