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Cramer Questions Office of Surface Mining (OSM) Director Pizarchik

Jul 23, 2013
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today in a hearing Congressman Kevin Cramer called on the Obama Administration to end its attempts to rewrite coal mining regulation which would harm the job markets and economies of 22 states including North Dakota. The hearing, held by the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, focused on the Stream Buffer Zone Rule being overhauled by the Obama Administration as a result of a practice known as "sue and settle." Cramer questioned Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) Director Joseph Pizarchik on the lack of coordination between the Department of the Interior and affected states like North Dakota.

Cramer said Pizarchik should stand by beliefs he expressed at his confirmation hearing, during which he stated it is “critical to the success of the interagency action plan for state regulatory authorities to participate in developing any recommendations.”

“It is unfortunate enough the Obama Administration continues to move forward with the most overzealous coal regulation in more than 30 years, but their lack of cooperation with states and the absence of transparency is even more alarming. North Dakota coal mining operators and regulators do not have the ability to plan for this rule because they still do not know what is in it,” said Cramer. “Further, this one-size-fits-all approach will likely come with a high toll on jobs and affordable electricity powered by coal in North Dakota through uncertainty and reduced coal availability.”

Uncertainty exists surrounding the planned rule because the Obama Administration has redacted relevant information from Congressional requests and failed to meet its own publishing deadline of June 29, 2012. Available draft documents indicate mining companies in North Dakota would be forced to collect vast new quantities of environmental data which is not relevant to the state’s ecology.

Finalized in 2008 after five years of scientific study and more than 43,000 public comments, the Stream Buffer Zone Rule regulates the amount of distance required between coal mining activity and water sources. Two environmental groups filed lawsuits against the Department of the Interior before the rule could take effect. Shortly after taking office, President Obama settled the lawsuit through a regulatory technique his administration frequently employs, known as "sue and settle". As a result of the settlement, the administration has proceeded to spend more than $8.6 million writing a sweeping overhaul of the Stream Buffer Zone Rule now known as the Stream Protection Rule.

“When this administration threw out the comprehensive 2008 stream buffer rule, it disregarded five years of science, stakeholder review and public input. It replaced that rule with the type of “sue and settle” agreement that has become the hallmark of this administration’s environmental policy. North Dakota’s mines power our state economically while being models of environmental responsibility, but this proposed rule would cause millions of tons of otherwise mineable coal to be lost. We’ve been successful at managing the issues the stream buffer rule contemplates—and we will continue to do so regardless of the outcome of this rulemaking. But the secrecy and the uncertainty of this entire process have made it clear that we simply can’t trust this administration’s subcontracting of environmental policy to special interest groups through the sue and settle process,” said Jason Bohrer, President and CEO of the Lignite Energy Council.

Multiple studies confirm the planned Stream Protection Rule would eliminate jobs in the United States. The draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared by the Obama Administration estimates 7,000 coal mining jobs would be lost, and 22 states would suffer economic harm. A private sector study published in March 2012 estimates a direct mining job loss between 55,120 and 79,870. Further, it would be the largest rulemaking in the 30-year history of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).

Prior to his election to Congress, Cramer was a member of the North Dakota Public Service Commission where he carried the SMCRA portfolio and was responsible for oversight of over 100,000 acres of coal mines under permit.

Congressman Cramer is a member of the Natural Resources and Science, Space and Technology Committees, including the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, and the Subcommittee on Energy of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee.