Two states pull out of mountaintop removal rule process

Officials from Indiana and Montana formally pulled out of an Obama administration effort to rewrite mountaintop removal mining restrictions this week. 

The states told the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) that they had been shut out of the rule-making process and no longer wanted to be considered cooperating agencies for the agency’s forthcoming stream protection rule.  

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“OSM pledged to provide the cooperator the opportunity to review drafts to allow a determination that comments provided by Indiana were accurately represented,” Steven Weinzapfel, the director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ reclamation division, wrote in a letter to OSM this week.

“This clearly has not happened.”

The OSM has been trying for years to update a decades-old rule designed to protect streams from mining and waste. The White House is currently reviewing the regulation. 

But the process has been politically fraught. Republicans and the mining industry oppose the rule and consider it part of an Obama administration “war on coal,” and GOP lawmakers have said the OSM hasn’t done enough to consult with states.

Eleven states that collaborated on the rule with the agency wrote to House Republicans earlier this year to say they had not heard from the Obama administration for years. 

With Indiana and Montana asking to be taken off the list, only Virginia remains among the nine states that had originally agreed to be cooperating agencies on the rule.

In a Thursday letter to the OSM, a Montana Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) official said his state had not received information on the rule since January 2011. 

“Based on MDEQ’s limited ability to participate in the process, we would no longer like to be considered a cooperating agency,” wrote Edward Coleman, chief of the state’s Industrial and Energy Minerals Bureau.

Julia Bell, a spokeswoman for the House Natural Resources Committee, said Montana and Indiana had “shun[ned] this mockery of a rule-making process.”

“The administration's ongoing mismanagement, habitual abuse of states, and utter lack of transparency in the process of rewriting the Stream Buffer Zone Rule has been this roundly rejected by the states,” she said.