Thursday, July 19, 2012

GOP & DEMS Square Off On "War On Coal" Report & Hearing

Jul 19: A report, prepared by the Democratic staff of the Natural Resources Committee, at the direction of Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), calls into question the benefits to America of allowing "destructive mining practices to continue" if that coal is going to subsequently be shipped to foreign nations like China. The report, Our Pain, Their Gain, provides an analysis of coal mine data and shows that coal exports have exploded from Appalachian operations over the last few years, with some mines exporting 100 percent of their coal abroad.
    The report analyzed data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, and included self-reported data from the mines themselves. Some of the top findings of the report include:
  • The number of mountaintop removal, steep slope and surface mines exporting coal from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Virginia increased from 73 mines in 2008 to 97 in 2011.
  • Coal exports from these mines in these four states have grown by 91 percent since 2009 to 13.2 million tons in 2011.
  • 25 of those mines exported more than half of their production in 2011. One Russian company is exporting nearly 83 percent of the coal from three mines in West Virginia, and five mines are shipping 100 percent of their coal abroad.
  • Overall, these 97 mines exported 27 percent of their production in 2011, more than doubling from 13 percent exported in 2008.

    Rep. Markey, the Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee said, "American families are being subjected to coal mine pollution and damage, just so exports to China and other foreign nations can increase. The coal may be shipped to foreign markets, but the diseases, the destroyed mountaintops, and the environmental ruin from these destructive practices are staying right here in America."

    Rep. Markey indicated in a release that, "The report comes as Republicans and the coal industry are attempting to beat back safeguards that would protect communities from coal mining pollution, including a hearing held today [see below] by the Natural Resources Republicans to attack rules that would protect streams and drinking water from mining operation pollution." He also indicated that the export issue is not isolated in the Appalachian region, as coal companies mining in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming are angling to vastly increase coal exports.

    The House Natural Resources Committee received testimony from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) Director Joseph Pizarchik at a Committee oversight hearing on the status of the Department of the Interior's (DOI's) rewrite of a 2008 coal regulation which Republicans said "could cost thousands of jobs and economic harm in 22 states, as well as the failure of the Department to respond to Congressional subpoenas for documents on the rewrite."

    Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04) said, "The Committee expects answers at this hearing. The Department has largely stonewalled the Committee's investigation into the Administration's highly unorthodox and questionable rulemaking process that could leave thousands of hardworking Americans unemployed. Director Pizarchik should be prepared to fully and completely answer questions regarding the Department's refusal to comply with the two subpoenas for documents, the current status of the rulemaking, and the Department's failure to abide by its voluntary court settlement agreement to complete the rule rewrite by the end of last month."

    In an opening statement, Chairman Hastings said, "Almost immediately after President Obama took office, his Administration tossed aside the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule, which had taken over five years of thorough environmental and scientific analysis and public comment to complete. The Department then entered into a lawsuit settlement with environmental groups to rewrite the rule by June 29, 2012. The Administration has spent millions of taxpayer dollars working to rewrite this rule including hiring new contractors,. only to dismiss those same contractors once it was publically revealed that the Administration's new proposed regulation could cost 7,000 jobs and cause economic harm in 22 states. . .
    "Today, this Committee expects answers -- open, honest and complete answers. It's inexcusable the way in which the Department has stonewalled this Committee's legitimate oversight efforts. The Obama Administration has made no secret of their desire to reduce or prohibit coal production. Their war on coal is being carried out on multiple fronts -- from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Office of Surface Mining -- all using the same tactic of imposing onerous red tape that will slowly cripple the industry. Never mind the thousands of American families and small businesses that depend on coal for their livelihood. . ."
    OSM's Director Joseph Pizarchik testified that, "Along with responsible oil and gas development and the growth of clean, renewable energy, coal is an important component of our nation's energy portfolio, and the responsible development of this important resource is a key part of America's energy and economic security. . ."
    Pizarchik concluded his testimony saying, "Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Committee today to testify on the development of OSM's Stream Protection Rule. The Department recognizes congressional oversight is an important part of our system of government, and we remain hopeful that the Department and the Committee can continue to work together to satisfy the Committee's oversight interests in this matter, while also safeguarding the independence, integrity, and effectiveness of the Department's ongoing efforts to develop a Stream Protection Rule. In that effort, we remain committed to developing a proposal that will more fully carry out the bureau's mission, make use of the best available science and technology, better protect communities and water supplies from the adverse impacts of surface coal mining, and provide greater clarity and certainty to the mining industry and the affected communities. We remain just as committed to providing ample opportunity for the Congress, public, industry, stakeholders and others to provide input on that proposal that will help us develop a balanced and responsible final rule. . ."
    Access a release from Rep. Markey (click here). Access the complete 38-page report (click here). Access the Republican hearing website for background, opening statement, testimony and a webcast (click here). [#Energy/Coal]
32 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals