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GOP questions job-loss figures from coal mining rule

Senate Republicans are challenging the Obama administration’s estimate of job losses that will be created by its stream protection rule for coal mining.

The Interior Department estimated that the rule, proposed in July to better protect streams from the effects of mountaintop removal and other mining practices, would threaten fewer than 300 jobs and that almost all would be replaced.

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But after a new study commissioned by the coal industry predicted up to 78,000 job losses among coal miners, Republicans pressed Interior to explain the discrepancy.

“This is a huge divergence in terms of numbers here,” Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGraham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Senate ref axes minimum wage, House votes today on relief bill Republicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars MORE (R-Alaska), chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a Tuesday hearing of the panel.

“You’ve got wide, wide discrepancy here in terms of number of jobs and the revenues that we’re discussing here,” she continued.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) asked Janice Schneider, the department's assistant secretary for land and mineral management, to explain.

“How did you estimate your cost on jobs and energy production, and why do your figures differ so dramatically from studies done by other, independent sources,” he asked.

The stream rule, proposed by the Office of Surface Mining (OSM), would implement a new series of standards and requirements to ensure that surface and other types of mines do not unnecessarily harm streams and the ecosystems and wildlife that depend on them.

It is aimed mostly and stopping the worst effects of mountaintop removal mining, in which mountains are blasted apart and the waste material is often put into stream valleys.

The hearing came the day after the National Mining Association (NMA) released its study showing higher job losses than Interior had estimated.

The 78,000 figure would account for more than three-quarters of all U.S. coal miners, causing Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to question the estimate.

Schneider criticized the NMA study, saying it gets the rule wrong.

“The analysis appears to assume that the proposed rule would prohibit longwall mining. That is not correct,” she said at the hearing Longwall is a type of underground mining. “And all of the numbers on job losses appear to flow from very conservative estimates that longwall mining would not be allowed.”

Schneider said that is not what the rule would do.

But Hall Quinn, NMA’s president, fought back, saying Interior’s estimates are wrong because the department did not study actual mines.

“The OSM study actually is based on hypothetical mines, mines that they actually hypothetically came up with, and then they spin their view of what the rule means,” he said.

“Our study is based on actual mines. We went out to 36 actually operating mines in every part of the country, underground and surface.”