Monday, October 31, 2011

Salazar plans to bury half-alive Office of Surface Mining

CONTACT: Aimee Erickson, Citizens Coal Council Ph) 724-470-3982
John Wathen, Friends of Hurricane Creek, Alabama, Ph) 205-233-1680

Salazar plans to bury half-alive Office of Surface Mining!

(Bridgeville, PA) -- Coalfield citizens throughout the United States join with Congressional leaders in rejecting the Obama Administration‟s announcement Wednesday, by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, to merge the federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Aimee Erickson
“This scheme is illegal and defies common sense,” said Aimee Erickson, Executive Director of the Citizens Coal Council. While the many devils in the yet-to-be-released details of the Salazar OSM-BLM merger scheme already raise many serious and practical objections, the illegality of the proposed bureaucratic
entanglement makes the proposal a non-starter.

John L. Wathen
Alabama-based Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen adds, "Even though Secretary Salazar has already refused to fully enforce the federal law that requires OSM to protect communities, land, water and wildlife against abuses by the coal mining industry, it is shocking that he would now propose to bury this half-alive
independent regulatory agency inside the Bureau of Land Management, whose mission includes promoting coal development.”

"We are concerned that one of the motives for the Obama administration's effort to destroy OSM's independent regulatory status is to capture, and use for deficit reduction, the billions of dollars in coal industry fees OSM administers to clean up some of the thousands of miles of poisoned streams caused by abandoned coal mines,” stated Erickson.

"Secretary Salazar and the White House know that eliminating OSM's independent regulatory role and
taking the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund are blatantly illegal, so they are really sending a signal to the Super Committee to use its deficit reduction authority to weaken OSM's environmental protection and dilute BLM's resource management effectiveness in ways that Congress itself would never allow."

“Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is quite correct in her understanding of federal law in stating that
Congressional approval is required to make any such changes to OSM,” said Ms. Erickson. As Sen. Murkowski elaborated in her press release of Oct. 27: “OSM was specifically established as a separate entity, reporting directly to the Interior Secretary, to protect its independence as a regulatory body. I want to make sure that's protected. The proposed merger of BLM – the entity responsible for leasing – and OSM – the regulatory body, seems to fly in the face of the arguments DOI used to support establishing the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement as an independent entity to regulate offshore oil development, separate from BOEMRE, which handles offshore leasing.”

Numerous organizations, from national-level to small grassroots groups, from every region of the United States echo these concerns. “Westerners have seen the poor reclamation performance of BLM in the areas of hardrock mining, coalbed methane, oil and gas development, and uranium; we do not believe that a merger of OSM into BLM will improve OSM‟s efforts in coal reclamation. Secretary Salazar wants to merge an l872 law with a modern law, and the results will be unfortunate,” said Ellen Pfister a Montana rancher and member of the Northern Plains Resource Council Coal Task Force. While Secretary Salazar also states that the move is in the interest of making the most of limited resources,‟ the Citizens Coal Council asserts that any so-called savings claimed by the Obama Administration‟s scheme will be illusory.

Secretary Salazar expressly states in his memorandum to the Directors of the OSM and the BLM that he will seek input from the White House, the Office of Budget and Management, employees and applicable congressional committees. However, as Ms. Erickson pointed out, “it adds insult to injury that the Secretary didn‟t even consult with America‟s coalfield citizens, and we are the ones who will be affected the most.”

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mine on Hurricane Creek

From the Birmingham Weekly.
Posted on October 6, 2011

Mine on Hurricane Creek


A mine on Hurricane Creek is polluting the waters that flow into the Black Warrior River and its owner should be forced to begin meeting its permit, according to a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit groups Black Warrior Riverkeeper and the Friends of Hurricane Creek.

A representative of mine owner Black Warrior Minerals Inc. said the company had no comment on the lawsuit.
Black Warrior Riverkeeper alleges that the Fleetwood Mine on the hedwaters of Hurricane Creek near Tuscaloosa has numerous violations, with orange, polluted water flowing from the strip mine.
The mine has been perpetually in violation of its permitted limits of iron, manganese, total suspended solids and pH over the past five years, the group says. The state agrees.
Black Warrior Minerals discharge into Hurricane Creek
“They’ve had some chronic problems with one or two of their basins,” said Randy Johnson, director of Alabama’s Surface Mining Commission. “One in particular has given them problems.”
The two nonprofit groups counted 1,200 water quality violations at the mine in the past five years. Most of those violations were documented from state records, but 11 were from the Riverkeeper’s own samples near the mine, according to the group.
The lawsuit asks a judge to assess civil penalties against the company. Civil penalties under the Clean Water Act can range up to $37,500 per violation.
The groups say the state has failed to enforce regulations against the company, forcing them to file a federal lawsuit Sept. 13.
“While our state agencies have taken some action, the action has not stopped or deterred the ongoing violations,” said Riverkeeper staff attorney Eva Dillard. “Without significant enforcement action we believe it’s not going to stop.”
Johnson said every time his commission logs a notice of violation at the mine, through its own monthly tests or the mine’s self-reporting, the state issues a fine of at least $500. Most of the violations cited come from the mine’s own tests, which it reports to the state.
Hurricane Creek is special not only because it’s a well-loved recreational resource and a tributary of the Black Warrior River. It is on the state’s impaired waters list, so that it is already more polluted than it is supposed to be by law, Johnson said. Under federal law, the state should have a program to clean it up, not allow it to get dirtier.
Hurricane Creek feeds into the Black Warrior River below Birmingham. The Fleetwood Mine is off an unnamed tributary of Hurricane Creek.
Johnson does not dispute the number of violations found at the mine. In fact, most of the violations are reported by the mine itself. But he points out that Black Warrior Riverkeeper counts differently from the state. For every monthly violation, it counts 30 to 31 violations, one for each day of the month. The state only counts one. Dillard said that’s in accordance with the federal law’s interpretation of the statute.
As of its last report to the state, Johnson said, the mine was in compliance with its permit.
This isn’t the Riverkeeper group’s first battle with a mine in the state. It also has a lawsuit pending in Montgomery Circuit Court to stop the proposed mine at Shepherd Bend from discharging just across the river from Birmingham’s western water intake, arguing that is too much of a hazard to the city’s water supply.
“There’s just a lot of mining going on in our watershed and, the fact on the ground is that many of them are having trouble keeping pollution out of our streams,” said Nelson Brooke who serves with the title of Riverkeeper for the group. “And if we don’t step up and do something they’re going to get the wrong message, and that message is that they can continue to pollute in Alabama with no repercussions.”