FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 27, 2023
Trey Pollard, firstname.lastname@example.org
COAL COUNTRY – Last night, 28 groups formally submitted comments in support of a new proposal by the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement (OSMRE) that ensures action is taken in response to citizen complaints about safety, pollution, and other violations at coal mining sites across the country. In their comments, the groups applauded the Biden Administration’s steps to update the “Ten Day Notice” rule to close loopholes and speed up the process through which community concerns about coal mine violations are addressed by federal and state regulators.
“The new rule allows for an appropriate balance between community participation, state autonomy and federal oversight. If the proposed rule is finalized in its current form, it will help community members and organizations like Appalachian Voices ensure that mining regulations are enforced,” said Erin Savage, Central Appalachian Program Manager for Appalachian Voices.
The Ten Day Notice rule governs how federal regulators respond to complaints filed by community members about potential violations of the law, like a resident reporting dangerous coal mine waste running into a stream. Presently, if the federal government is informed of a potential coal mining violation by any person, federal agencies will notify state authorities who then have up to ten days to address the complaint. If action does not occur within that time window, the federal government will then step in and take action to address the issue.
However, the process was dramatically weakened by changes implemented under the Trump Administration’s OSMRE in 2020. Those changes allowed for additional, unnecessary information requests by federal agencies to state agencies that can grind the process to a halt with ceaseless bureaucratic red tape, all while the violation goes unaddressed. Moreover, the 2020 changes exempted mining permits issued in violation of the law by state regulators from the Ten Day Notice procedure, giving some coal mining companies a free pass to dodge oversight and operate regardless of the laws of the books. Finally, these changes no longer required OSMRE to presume complaints are true and do not require an inspection to investigate.
In early 2021, Appalachian Voices, Citizens’ Coal Council and the Sierra Club challenged that Trump-era rule in court for creating these delays which often ensure more than ten days pass without action to address a complaint. While that case is still pending, the new proposal filed by the Biden Administration’s OSMRE in April of this year closes those loopholes, stops the delays, and helps the concerns of community members be heard as quickly as possible. The proposed updates to the Ten Day Notice rule were applauded in the comments filed yesterday for:
- Cutting down on red tape by ending unnecessary data requests to state agencies and limiting reviews to publicly available information, information provided in the complaint and within the agency’s own files at the time the complaint was submitted;
- Empowering community input by treating all community complaints as requests for federal inspection and allowing community members to accompany federal regulators on inspections;
- Tackling systemic problems by including “permit defects” – or mining permits issued in violation of the law by state regulators – as a violation that can be addressed through the Ten Day Notice procedure.
- Speeding up solutions by providing stricter timelines for response.
“This new rule means that the concerns of citizens who are worried about coal mines that break the law will be heard and action will be taken quickly,” said Brendan Muckian-Bates, Policy and Advocacy Associate with Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center. “When a coal mine is dumping dangerous waste in drinking water, we don’t have any time to waste with bureaucratic games and politics. We’re grateful this proposal cuts through the red tape and gives the people of our communities a tool to take action effectively and efficiently.”
The Ten Day Notice process was first established under the The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. That legislation set legal standards for mining operations and empowered community members to make sure those standards are enforced – in part thanks to mechanisms like the Ten Day Notice. Groups supporting these important updates to the Ten Day Notice rule include:
The Alliance for Appalachia
Alliance for the Wild Rockies
Appalachian Mountain Advocates
Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Inc. (AL)
Center for Biological Diversity
Central Illinois Healthy Alliance
Citizens Against Longwall Mining (IL)
Citizens Coal Council
The Clinch Coalition (VA)
Coal River Mountain Watch (WV)
Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (PA)
Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation
Dr. Tom Ettinger – New York University
Extinction Rebellion Kentucky
Friends of Bell Smith Springs (IL)
Friends for Environmental Justice (KY)
Global Justice Ecology Project
Powder River Basin Resource Council
Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards
Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (TN)
Valley Watch (IN)
West Virginia Highlands Conservancy
West Virginia Rivers Coalition
Woodland Community Land Trust (TN)