House Committee Hears Testimony on Coal Miner Bill

by Erica Peterson on November 18, 2011

A new bill in a House of Representatives committee would block the federal government from changing the surface mine law for the next two years. The Coal Miner Employment Act was the subject of a subcommittee hearing today.

The bill, sponsored by Ohio Congressman Bill Johnson, is in response to an expected proposal by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to rewrite a controversial stream buffer rule, placing restrictions on how close to streams mine waste can be disposed.

The bill lays out a ban on any changes to the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, or SMCRA, that would cause any loss of coal jobs or reduce the land available for mining.

In the hearing West Virginia University law professor Pat McGinley testified against the bill. Since SMCRA became law, he says

“Coal production in the United States has increased significantly while the number of coal mining jobs has dropped precipitously. The loss of jobs in the coalfields is not related to regulation. It is related directly to the mechanization of coal mining.”

McGinley also pointed out that a stream buffer rule was in effect from 1982 to 2008, and the mining industry continued despite the restriction.

The subcommittee also heard from the president and vice president of Lexington-based mining engineering firm. The two men were subcontracted to work on the new stream buffer rule, and told the committee political appointees asked them to tweak the numbers when they were unhappy with the results.

Johnson held up that evidence as proof of the necessity of his bill.

“I will not rest until we have all the answers on this rulemaking process, until my legislation becomes law, because thousands of jobs in my district are on the line,” he said.

But even as Johnson was linking regulation with job loss, a coal lobbying organization was telling a different story. On the front page of its website, the National Mining Association is promoting an 8.5 percent increase in coal mining jobs over the past decade, and a 32 percent increase in mine support jobs. That’s despite tightening environmental regulations over the past three years.

The bill is currently referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

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