House GOP issues second subpoena over planned coal-mining rules

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc HastingsRichard (Doc) Norman HastingsCongress just resolved a 20-year debate over Neolithic remains Boehner hires new press secretary GOP plots new course on Endangered Species Act reform MORE (R-Wash.) subpoenaed the Interior Department for a second time Friday over planned regulations aimed at curbing environmental damage from Appalachian coal mining.

The subpoena calls on the Interior Department to provide documents related to the planned rules by May 24 — it’s the second subpoena issued by the committee over the regulations in the last month.

House Republicans have taken aim at Interior’s plans to rework rules issued at the end of the George W. Bush administration that regulate the dumping of debris from mountaintop-removal coal mining into nearby waterways.

Committee Republicans, who authorized Hastings to issue the subpoena in a March party-line vote, have been investigating the planned regulations for more than a year.

Hastings said Friday that the Interior Department didn’t adequately comply with the first subpoena, issued on April 5.

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“The expectation was that the subpoenaed material would be readily producible by the Department. It is unfortunate that the Department has chosen not to comply with this straightforward request,” Hastings said in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

“Department officials and political appointees are not allowed to shield their communications from public scrutiny on the basis that the information may prove embarrassing, especially where, as here, there are very serious questions about how and why this administrative action was initiated and is to be completed on a hastened schedule.”

Republicans argue the Obama administration’s planned rules could cost jobs and burden the coal industry. But environmental groups and others say the Bush-era regulation, known as the Stream Buffer Zone Rule, does not adequately protect streams and other waterways from mountaintop-removal mining.

Mountaintop removal is a type of strip mining in which companies blow the tops off Appalachian peaks to access the seams of coal beneath. The rock, soil and other debris are pushed into adjacent valleys and can bury streams that form the headwaters of larger rivers below.

Interior spokesman Adam Fetcher called the subpoena "inappropriate and premature."

"A stream protection rule has not even been proposed yet, and it is inappropriate and premature for Congress to inquire into the details of an agency’s ongoing deliberations in a rulemaking activity," Fetcher said.

Fetcher added, "In response to the Committee's inquiries over the past year, we have repeatedly testified, responded to the Committee's requests, produced thousands of pages of documents, and made clear that we intend to continue to cooperate with the Committee's oversight interests."

The Interior Department says it has provided 13,000 pages of documents in response to the committee's investigation.

The committee has issued two subpoenas in recent months as part of a separate investigation into a 2010 report that erroneously suggested outside engineers had endorsed a deepwater drilling freeze following the BP oil spill.

Read more about those subpoenas here.

— Updated at 4:51 p.m.