August 3, 2010
WHITE HOUSE, INTERIOR SECRETARY SALAZAR NOT SERIOUS ABOUT PROTECTING PEOPLE, ENVIRONMENT IN AMERICA’S COALFIELDS
Coalfield Citizen Leaders Say White House, Interior Secretary Salazar Refuse to Enforce the Federal Strip Mining Law
Today is the 33rd anniversary of the 1977 passage of the landmark federal mining reclamation law, Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). A coalition of community groups, from states where the coal industry continues to damage lands and waters and put lives at risk, said today that the Obama administration is deliberately refusing to fully enforce environmental laws being broken by the coal mining industry.
Citizens Coal Council includes 21 grassroots organizations from 15 states where coal mining companies are destroying mountains, streams, prime farmlands and western grasslands, as well as polluting water, failing to restore mined lands, and leaving communities vulnerable to blasting, floods, landslides and subsidence.
Aimee Erickson, Executive Director of Citizens Coal Council, said "Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is working to undercut the federal law by promoting weaker regulations and has ignored citizens’ pleas to fully enforce SMCRA.”
"The White House and Secretary Salazar refused to even think about improving environmental enforcement at the Minerals Management Service until an oil company's terrible performance killed people and damaged our wetlands, Gulf Coast fisheries and beaches," said Erickson.
"Irresponsible coal mining companies have already killed people, poisoned rivers, destroyed families' homes, left communities without drinking water, and caused devastating floods. But the White House and Secretary Salazar have created a regulatory environment that lets the most irresponsible companies violate federal and state laws with impunity," Erickson continued.
Citizens Coal Council Acting Chairman John Wathen said "When citizens met last year with Interior officials to encourage consideration of other nominees to run the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), because President Obama's choice, Joseph Pizarchik, had let the coal industry get away with destructive practices in Pennsylvania, we
were told not to worry. We were told that the Administration and Secretary Salazar would set the policy. A year later, Secretary Salazar’s policy continues to keep OSMRE's record of subservience to the worst lawbreakers in the coal industry. Interior also continues to green light strip mine permits where full reclamation under SMCRA is highly unlikely to be achieved. While the OSMRE has increased meetings with citizens, the agency reduces enforcement resources and allows states to fail to even meet the minimum required number of inspections under SMCRA.”
Attorney Tom FitzGerald, Director of the Kentucky Resources Council submitted the following comments regarding the Stream “Protection” Rule EIS scoping, which provides a good example of the many problems not yet addressed by Secretary Salazar.
The change in leadership offers a potential opportunity for a rededication to the principles of the 1977 mining law "to protect society and the environment from the adverse effects of surface coal mining operations" and to give effect to the mission of the Clean Water Act to "end water pollution". The state and federal regulatory agencies have the necessary tools to demand much more accountability in all forms of surface mine planning and performance with respect to mine planning, reducing the size and number of valley fills, reforming blasting regulations to better protect the public, restricting the appropriation of public streams for sediment control, eliminating new high and moderate hazard coal waste impoundments and requiring closure and dewatering of old ones; and broadening monitoring and pollution control obligations of coal companies. Unfortunately, the principles established by Congress have been lost in the hands of a federal agency that has, for the better part of its existence, been largely captive to the wishes of the industry it regulates.
Aimee Erickson also called upon Congress, through the Senate Energy Natural Resources Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee, to fulfill their oversight responsibilities under SMCRA.
Photo gallery of mine destruction
Aimee Erickson, Executive Director, Citizens Coal Council 724-222-5602
John Wathen, Acting Chair, Citizens Coal Council, Cell: 205-233-1680