Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has announced a postponement of a merger between the Bureau of Land Management and the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement to Feb. 15, 2012.
In late October, Salazar announced the proposal and received immediate and staunch criticism. Some argued that the two agencies have little overlap and expressed doubts over whether the merger would be effective. Others questioned if Salazar’s proposal is legal, since both the BLM and OSMRE were created by acts of Congress.
At a hearing held by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, panelists gave testimony questioning the effects of the merger. West Virginia University College of Law Professor Patrick McGinley noted the order was made with no prior notice or consultation of Congress, coalfield citizens or the coal industry and argued that mingling OSMRE employees with those of agencies that promote development or use of coal is explicitly prohibited by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
The BLM is the federal agency tasked with administration of the United States’ public lands, while the OSMRE, an unrelated branch of the Department of the Interior, is entrusted with implementation and enforcement of 1977’s SMCRA legislation.
Mine Agency Releases Inspection Results, Audited for Poor Fine Collection
In the wake of the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster in Raleigh County, W.Va., the Mine Health and Safety Administration announced a plan to increase their presence in monitoring mine sites for safety hazards in Appalachia. The results of the October impact inspections were announced Nov. 22.
The eight inspected coal mines were issued 145 citations and 18 orders. A mine in Pike County, Ky., operated by Viper Coal LLC., received eight citations for mining in excess of the 20-foot maximum cut depth and exposing miners to potentially fatal roof falls.
Impact inspections target mines that have poor compliance history and require “increased agency attention and enforcement.” Since they began, 6,383 citations, 614 orders and 22 safeguards have re- sulted from 383 inspections.
Nearly a week after the inspection results were announced, the Department of Labor released an audit documenting MSHA’s failure to effectively enforce and collect fines for violations under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977.
MSHA is scheduled to release its official report on the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster on Dec. 6.
The full audit report concerning MSHA’s fine collection can be found on the Office of the Inspector General‘s web- site: oig.dol.gov/auditreports.htm
Delays and Setbacks for EPA Clean Air Rules
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced another delay of new standards limiting the greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants and oil refineries. The delay is the latest setback for proposed clean air rules governing everything from smog to mercury pollution.
As the EPA plans safer air pollution rules, some in Congress have criticized the EPA’s proposed regulations, alleging they would kill jobs and hamper economic recovery. The delay comes despite new data showing the largest increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions (for the year 2010) since the start of the industrial revolution – 564 million tons more than 2009 – a six percent increase.
EPA administrator Lisa Jackson reports that the finalized plan for power plants will roll out early next year. The new deadline to finalize rules concerning oil refinery emissions is now mid- November, 2012.
Surface Mines as Military Training Facilities
Military personnel bound for Afghanistan will be making a stop in West Virginia to learn to operate Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. The trainings will take place on reclaimed surface mine land adjacent to the West Virginia National Guard training complex. The terrain was chosen for its similarities to eastern Afghanistan.
Baard Energy Drops Plans for Coal-to-Liquids Plant
Due to sustained and outspoken citizen opposition and financial setbacks, Baard Energy has cancelled a proposed $5.5 billion coal-to-liquids plant in Columbiana County, Ohio. The coal-to-liquids facility would have used 9.3 million tons of coal a year, including Ohio high-sulfur coal.
West Virginia Gov. Tomblin Sworn in, Swears to fight EPA
On Nov. 13, the 35th Governor of West Virginia, Earl Ray Tomblin, was sworn into office at the state capitol in Charleston. Tomblin has continuously denounced EPA regulations. In September, as acting Governor, Tomblin gave testimony at a Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resource hearing where he decried the EPA’s “anti-coal” agenda and claimed West Virginian’s owe their financial health partially to coal.
Coal Industry Wants Homeland Security Exemption
The Department of Homeland Security recently accepted public comment on a 2008 rule proposing the regulation of the sale and transfer of ammonium nitrate. Traditionally a farm fertilizer, the compound can be used to create bombs via widely available instructions. The National Mining Association has requested an exemption for the purchase of ammonium nitrate used solely for the production of explosives. A letter from Tawny A. Bridgeford, the association’s deputy general counsel, claims the mining industry’s ammonium nitrate purchases are adequately regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and that “[The] Department of Homesland Security should have a more accurate accounting for the costs of its regulatory program before finalizing its proposed rule.”
Investor Backs Away from Carbon-Capture Program
Ameren, a Midwest power company and a primary investor in an effort to implement commercial scale carbon capture and sequestration, backed out of the venture over financial concerns. Originally created in 2003, the venture FutureGen 2.0, received $1 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the conversion of one power plant.