Front Porch Blog

The Environment on The Hill: Congress Continues to Undermine Essential Protections

Rep. Jared Huffman asks fellow members of the House Energy and Mineral Subcommittee: “Why should we be allowing mountaintop removal mining to bury hundreds of miles of Appalachian streams, destroy mountain towns, and threaten people in the region with cancer, lung and heart disease?”

Rep. Jared Huffman asks his fellow committee members “Why should we be allowing mountaintop removal mining to bury hundreds of miles of Appalachian streams, destroy mountain towns, and threaten people in the region with cancer, lung and heart disease?”

Yesterday was a busy day on Capitol Hill. With multiple hearings on environmental issues in the House and Senate, Congress is trying to get a lot of business done before the August recess.

House Natural Resources Committee Questions OSM Director Pizarchik

Joseph Pizarchik, Director of the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement (OSM) was questioned by the members of the Energy and Mineral Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee. The hearing was supposedly focused on the “war on jobs” and the Stream Buffer Zone rule rewrite.

The Bush administration changed the Stream Buffer Zone rule in 2008 to make it easier for coal companies to dump mining waste into Appalachian streams, and among many others, we have been fighting to get OSM to write a stronger rule ever since. The good news is that OSM is indeed in the process of creating a new rule, the Stream Protection Rule. The bad news is that they’ve been working on it for four years and don’t expect it to be released until next year at some time. We also don’t know how strong the rule will be.

Meanwhile, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) of the energy subcommittee has called Pizarchik to the Hill about a half-dozen times to criticize the rulemaking process. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) even criticized the rule, certain that it will cost “thousands of jobs.” Any claims of job killing are based on paranoid assumptions. After all, OSM has not even released a first draft of a rule.

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) pointed out that the reason OSM must rewrite the Stream Buffer Zone rule is to “protect Appalachian streams and communities from destructive mountaintop removal mining.” Huffman went on to say that such a hearing should be asking: “Why should we be allowing mountaintop removal mining to bury hundreds of miles of Appalachian streams, destroy mountain towns, and threaten people in the region with cancer, lung and heart disease?”

In responding to a cogent series of questions on surface mining’s impact on water quality from Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA), Director Pizarchik delivered the most important statement of the day: “I’ve seen parts of Appalachia where there is no business because all the water has been polluted historic mining.”

House Appropriations Bill Guts Environmental Regulations, Funding

Yesterday, the House Appropriations committee released a draft of a bill to fund the Department of the Interior and the EPA. The bill would cut funding for both agencies, including cutting EPA’s funding by approximately one-third.

Beyond that, the bill authors took it upon themselves to prohibit the EPA from promulgating a rulemaking to change the definition of fill material under the Clean Water Act. We have been asking EPA to do just that since 2009, as well as advocating for Congress doing the same by passing the Clean Water Protection Act. The new appropriations bill would also prohibit OSM from completing or enforcing the Stream Protection Rule described above.

In both cases, under the guise of cutting federal spending, House appropriators are attempting to protect coal mining interests from much-needed regulations.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), ranking member on the subcommittee and outspoken Appalachian community advocate, stated that the “bill is a disgrace.” As is so often the case, we wholeheartedly agree with the congressman. Unfortunately, the subcommittee approved the bill and it will move forward to the full committee.

Senate Questions EPA Water Nominee

The water office of the EPA has been led by acting chief Nancy Stoner for years, while a permanent replacement has been denied confirmation by the Senate. Yesterday morning, Obama nominee Ken Kopocis appeared before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The water office will have a major impact on decisions regarding Appalachian water issues. Kopocis, who has been serving in an advisory capacity to the EPA, and has years of experience working as a senior staffer in Congress.

Kopocis leadership is needed to protect Appalachian streams from pollution, and we hope the Senate will confirm his nomination soon so that we can begin working with him in the near future.

About Thom Kay

AV's Senior Legislative Representative, Thom spends his days between Durham, NC and Washington D.C., knee deep in politics and legislation, working to persuade decision-makers to protect Appalachian communities from mountaintop removal and to invest in a new economy for the region. He is the least outdoorsy person at Appalachian Voices, and he's just fine with that.


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