Environmental groups call on Biden to appoint permanent head of mine reclamation agency
The Sierra Club and a coalition of Appalachian environmental groups called on President Biden to nominate a permanent director of the agency that regulates mine reclamation in a letter Monday.
In the letter, the organizations called for a permanent head of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE). They noted the numbers of unreclaimed mines that have been abandoned amid falling demand for coal, which creates increased risks of aquifer contamination, flooding and landslides.
“Rather than take action to identify and address the mines most likely to be abandoned, regulators misuse provisions intended to account for temporary changes in market conditions in a way that allows functionally-abandoned sites to deteriorate further,” the letter states. “OSMRE oversight is critically needed to address these issues and uphold the core purpose of [the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977] by ensuring that every mine site is fully reclaimed.”
Moreover, the letter notes, the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law in November included $11.3 billion to address abandoned mines, but properly administering these funds would present major logistical hurdles without a permanent director.
The letter also cites moves by the Trump administration that the signers claim created new hurdles to reclamation. Prior rules gave state regulators 10 days to investigate and resolve allegations of violations before OSMRE made a decision on whether to step in. Under the Trump rule, OSMRE and the state conducted a preliminary investigation before that process began, which opponents argued hamstrung the process. Several signers of the letter, including the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and the Citizens Coal Council, sued over the rule earlier this year.
The last permanent director of the OSMRE was Lanny Erdos, who was nominated by then-President Trump in 2019 and served for the remainder of the Trump administration.
About 60 percent of abandoned coal mines are located in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, the majority on state-owned lands, according to the Bureau of Land Management. An estimated 5,200 abandoned coal mine sites have yet to be fully reclaimed, according to the agency, which estimates associated health and safety costs of about $3 billion.
The Hill has reached out to the Interior Department for comment on whether a nomination is forthcoming.
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