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States Find New Friends

Last month, two seemingly disparate events showed how some in the President Donald Trump administration are holding fast to promises and principles. Both events encouraged a respect for state partnership and the welfare of coal communities.

The first event was a subdued birthday party at the Department of the Interior, where the Office of Surface Mining and Regulatory Enforcement (OSM) observed its 40th anniversary. Recall that Congress passed OSM’s authorizing law, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), in 1977, directing the agency to strike “a balance between protection of the environment … and the nation’s need for coal …”

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Change We Can Believe In

Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of the speech Hal Quinn (left), president and CEO of the National Mining Association, delivered at Longwall USA 2017 in June. 

When I was here two years ago, we discussed the twin forces we faced — the market and our government. We have always faced market forces, but never the relentless wrath of our own government.

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Who’s Mining the AML Store?

We interrupt our normal programing about Washington’s regulatory follies to bring you this message about an obscure federal program that was the long-overdue subject of a U.S. House of Representatives oversight hearing last month.

This would be the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund, paid for by the coal industry and administered by the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement (OSM). The House subcommittee on energy and minerals heard how this ramshackle, multibillion-dollar program has become equally inefficient and ineffective. Billions from the fund can’t be accounted for, with the only certainty that most of the money hasn’t been spent on abandoned coal mine cleanup, the intended purpose.

Here’s the plot to date. Since 1977, the AML fund has collected some $11 billion from fees, with interest, on each ton of mined coal to clean up abandoned coal mines prioritized for this purpose. Of this total, about $8.5 billion as of last fall has been spent — but not on abandoned coal mines. In fact, just $2.8 billion has been spent on high and low priority sites, according to OSM’s records.

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Ending The ‘War on Coal’

 The President Donald Trump Administration is a peace-loving group of men and women as far as coal is concerned. First, the president himself, then his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, and finally Vice President Mike Pence all proclaimed the end to our government’s “war on coal.”

The administration, with bipartisan support from Congress, has done much to halt Washington’s regulatory barrage on coal production and use. Spiking the cannons that former President Barack Obama relentlessly fired from his regulatory agencies has likely spared the coal industry from a steeper, perhaps irreversible decline.

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“You’re Gonna Love It”

 

Our president is accused of throwing wild punches but some of them have landed squarely on the jaws of coal’s critics. Here’s a ringside look.

In just a little over a month in office, Trump, EPA administrator Pruitt and Interior Secretary Zinke have taken bold steps to systematically dismantle the elaborate regulatory prison that team Obama locked the coal industry in. Who ever knew elections had so many liberating consequences? No wonder China’s party leaders don’t allow them.

First, we saw Congress and then the president move against the stream rule, the Office of Surface Mining’s gift to itself. Through this massive regulation, based on a fanciful reading of the agency’s legal authority, OSM hoped to acquire regulatory powers over mining operations that have long rested with state agencies. OSM would have also duplicated EPA’s authority to set water quality standards and, that way, create an expanded role for itself despite the dwindling number of coal mines it is properly empowered to regulate.

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