GOP issues subpoena over Obama mining rules

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) on Tuesday said he has subpoenaed a federal official for information about the Obama administration's work on a coal-mining rule.

Hastings said his committee has been seeking information about the administration's efforts to rewrite the Stream Buffer Zone Rule, which regulates coal production. His committee found irregularities and political interference in that process in 2012, and Hastings said the Interior Department's Inspector General (IG) made "similar findings" earlier this year.

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The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) stressed today that the IG found no evidence of political interference. Nonetheless, Hastings said Interior's Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall has refused to give Congress a copy of the report, and said Interior has recommended that it not be given to Congress.

"The IG is charged with being an independent watchdog for Congress," he said. "It's completely unacceptable and inappropriate for the IG to be taking orders from the Department ... especially about what information to withhold from Congress.

"That's why today I have issued a subpoena to the Deputy Inspector General Kendall for this information," Hastings said on the House floor.

Hasting's announcement came at the start of a debate over Republican legislation to stop the administration from re-writing the coal rule. Hastings said that instead of using a 2008 rule, the Obama administration tossed out that regulation and spent more than $10 million to develop its own.

But he said that rule was delayed after it was reported it would cost 7,000 jobs and harm economic growth in 22 states.

Democrats countered that a court has overturned the coal rule, and that it would allow environmentally dangerous mountaintop strip mining. They also said the 2008 rule was a "midnight" rule that was issued just before the end of the Geroge W. Bush administration, and like OSMRE, they rejected the idea of political interference in the Obama administration's effort to write a rule.

Hastings argued that the court ruling came from one judge who said there was no formal consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service while it was being written.

The Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act, H.R. 2824, would stop the administration's effort to re-write the rules, and require the administration to study the impact of the 2008 rule for five years before pursuing any changes. 

— This story was updated at 6:18 p.m.

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