Interior Takes Steps to Improve Federal-State Cooperation in Mining Regulations

OSMRE Director Lanny Erdos is a white man with short gray hair wearing a suit and standing next to an American flag.
5/13/2020
Lanny E. Erdos, Acting Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement

Since the passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) within the Department of the Interior has worked to strike the essential balance between our nation’s need for secure and reliable energy with a robust legacy of environmental stewardship. After all, it is in our DNA: that very balance is the guiding principle of SMCRA, and our office is proud to carry out this mission every day for the American people.

It is also a top priority for President Trump, who knows that, when it comes to ensuring secure and reliable American energy and protecting our environment, we cannot forsake one for the other. At OSM, we know that this balance hinges on maintaining effective, collaborative, and constructive relationships with state governments, our partners in 25 states across the country—including the Buckeye State.

OSM has the privilege of overseeing mining in these states to ensure that they comply with the standards set out in SMCRA. But, in the past, we and our state partners have often duplicated investigations into potential violations at mine sites—likely owing to poor communication between federal and state agencies. In many cases, we were not fully aware of the extent other agencies were looking into the same potential problem.

This lack of communication is a perfect example of why people grow frustrated with government. This duplicative work makes no sense and is an ineffective use of limited resources and time. That is why the Trump Administration is proud to publish a new rule to ensure we don’t duplicate our efforts in the future.

OSM’s new rule defines how we issue ten-day notices (or TDNs)—the amount of time we give our state partners to address a reported concern or potential violation. Our rulemaking will clarify and provide guidance for the issuance of TDNs to state regulatory authorities; the evaluation of state regulatory authorities to ten-day notices by OSM; and enhancement of procedures for early identification and implementation of corrective action, to address program issues that may arise at the state level.

Specifically, the proposed rule would mandate that if a citizen alerts OSM of a potential violation, OSM will directly coordinate with its state partners. This direct coordination allows OSM to determine if the states have already investigated the potential violation. Better coordination promotes sharing of resources, saves time, and eliminates duplicative efforts, resulting in a more effective implementation of SMCRA, and further ensures the safety of the general public and the protection of the environment.

These reforms will provide greater certainty for the State of Ohio—and all our state partners—when investigating citizen complaints and responding to OSM inquiries about possible violations at coal mines. Moreover, the rule will promote the proper cooperative federalism framework that must inform all our work at OSM when coordinating with our primacy state partners.

What’s more, our proposal dovetails both with President Trump’s efforts to remove unnecessary regulatory burdens, and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s priorities for sustainably developing our energy and natural resources, restoring trust, and being a good neighbor to our state partners.

The new rule provides sufficient tools to identify on the ground issues in a timely and effective manner, and empowers the state regulatory authority to take corrective measures if they’re needed—while also protecting people and the environment.

As a former state regulator, who has spent more than 30 years working in Ohio, I am intimately familiar with the need for reform.  This new rule would require OSM and the states to work more closely, communicate better, and engage with citizens faster, if there is a problem at a mine site. Importantly, even while working cooperatively with the states, OSM will always retain its authority to hold the states and violators accountable.

We have a serious mission to carry out; Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has made it clear that our team will ensure we follow the law and work tirelessly on behalf of the American people who put their trust in us to do what’s right. Americans in Coal Country—where OSM plays a role in daily life—also expect us to get it right while being good stewards of their resources. Eliminating duplicative working and embolden federal-state collaboration is a vital part of our mission. 

All stakeholders will have an opportunity to weigh in on our reforms. We invite the public to review the proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register, where the public comment period will extend through June 15, 2020.

At OSM, we are proud to advance the President’s priorities for the American people. As Acting Director, I have tasked our team to live up to the high standard that our nation expects of us. With this rule we can successfully balance energy production and environmental protection, and work more closely with all our stakeholders.

 

Lanny E. Erdos serves as Acting Director of the Office of Surface Mining at the United States Department of the Interior. He is a native Ohioan.

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