New surface mining head has cautious approach

AP News
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Posted: Dec 10, 2009 5:20 PM

The Obama administration's new head of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement plans no immediate changes to the regulation of mountaintop removal mining in a decidedly eastern U.S. agenda.

Joe Pizarchik told The Associated Press on Thursday he needs to tour mountaintop mines in Appalachia and hear from coal producers, rural communities, environmentalists and others before deciding how he wants to regulate mountaintop removal mining. Likewise, any changes to how the agency enforces federal surface mining law across the country depends on a series of inspections by OSM personnel aimed at determining whether coal states are doing an adequate job.

"The federal government is not the exclusive repository of good ideas," Pizarchik said.

If change does come, it will come in the East. Surface mines in the Midwest and in Wyoming, the nation's top coal producer, aren't troubling Pizarchik, although the industry considers both regions potential replacements for Appalachian coal production. "I don't know that we're seeing anything that has garnered the public attention the way that mountaintop removal mining has," he said.

Pizarchik's wait-and-see approach doesn't sit well with environmental groups pushing the Obama administration to ban mountaintop removal coal mining, which primarily is practiced in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. While highly efficient and the source of tens of thousands of jobs, environmental groups such as the Sierra Club consider the practice too damaging to allow.

"We don't think there needs to be any more scrutiny of what's going on here in terms of the science," said Janet Keating, executive director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "I think the biggest failure of the Office of Surface Mining has been the fact that they haven't taken into account the cumulative impacts of this mining."