A rugged, whitewater river flowing northward through deep canyons, the New River is among the oldest rivers on the continent. New River Gorge National River in West Virginia encompasses over 70,000 acres of land along the New River, is rich in cultural and natural history, and offers an abundance of scenic and recreational opportunities.
Big Southern Butte is one of two domes rising from a sea of basalt near the center of the eastern Snake River Plain in Idaho. The butte is one of the largest volcanic domes in the world, but at 300,000 years old it is also one of the youngest. Hikers who trek to the 7,550-foot high summit are rewarded with spectacular panoramic views. Photo by Devin Englestead, BLM Upper Snake Wildlife Biologist.
First light at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Established in November 22, 1939, the refuge has provided a critical stopover and wintering spot for thousands of sandhill cranes, geese and other waterfowl for 75 years. Bosque del Apache's sandhill crane population has multiplied from 18 birds in the 1840s to more than 20,000 birds today. Photo by Kim Hang Dessoliers (www.sharetheexperience.org).
Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement
Department of the Interior
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
of the United States Senate
August 6, 2009
Thank you, Chairman Bingaman and Senators. I am honored to appear before you as President Obama's nominee to head the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement at the Department of the Interior. I thank President Obama and Secretary Salazar for their confidence in me and I thank you for considering my nomination.
I appreciate the opportunity to present my background and qualifications. The majority of my career has been in public service for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.My experience there has given me exposure to the many facets of the mining industry that make-up the responsibilities of OSMRE.
For the past 17 years I have been engaged in Pennsylvania's mining program, first as legal counsel and then as the Director of the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation, where I have worked on a variety of projects. Under the guidance of Kathleen McGinty, then Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, we developed and implemented a policy, based on sound scientific and legal principles, to protect streams from underground coal mining subsidence without shutting down mining. I was also assigned the responsibility and did resolve a postmining discharge liability matter that was blocking progress on the Flight 93 National Memorial. While working closely with the Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security, I led the state effort to secure explosive storage magazines. These security measures, the only ones of their kind in the country, greatly reduced the risk to the nation's capital and other major East Coast cities. The number of break-ins and thefts of explosives in Pennsylvania dropped from one of the highest in the country to zero. Notwithstanding dire industry predictions, zero is also the number of explosive industry firms that left Pennsylvania or went out of business because of the security requirements.
Pennsylvania's mining program encompasses more than coal permits. It also includes water quality and stream encroachment permits, Environmental Good Samaritan projects, remining and reclamation of abandoned mines, industrial mineral mining, blasting and explosives regulation, mine subsidence insurance, and bonding. The breadth of Pennsylvania's program requires knowledge of a broad range of laws and interaction with various agencies.
I understand and appreciate the interests and duties of the states and federal government and the roles of citizens, environmentalists, and industry in protecting the environment and our citizens while helping to meet America's energy needs. They each play a critical role in effective development, implementation, and enforcement of our mining program and regulations. I have the experience, temperament, and skills to work with stakeholders for pragmatic and creative solutions.
I have represented Pennsylvania as both the client and attorney in litigation, legislative, regulatory, and programmatic matters. Through these experiences I understand the value of an objective, honest approach to resolving matters, whether they are complex, simple, controversial, or uninteresting. I am comfortable working together with people of divergent backgrounds and interests, whether an average citizen or high government official.
As a member of the Executive Branch, I see my duty as executing the laws enacted by the legislators and, at times, as interpreted by the courts. The laws are to be implemented for the benefit of America and not used to the detriment of an individual or interest.
If confirmed, I will be leaving a corps of state government employees dedicated to implementing the laws to protect Pennsylvania's environment and people while meeting the country's mining needs, but I will be joining a group of similarly dedicated federal employees and officials in OSMRE, EPA, and elsewhere in the Obama administration. Together we will work with the states, citizens, and industry to build on past successes, correct past missteps, and craft new solutions as we strive to meet America's environmental and energy needs.
On a more personal note, I grew up on a small farm in southwestern Pennsylvania with my parents and six brothers and sisters. My dad, a World War II veteran, worked in the steel mill in addition to farming. Survival was a collaborative effort; the entire family pitched in. We all had our responsibilities, which started at a very young age. Like my siblings before and after me, by the time I started school I had already moved from feeding the dogs to feeding and caring for the chickens. Life on the farm involved recycling before there was an Earth Day. We practiced conservation measures that arose out of the Dust Bowl era and cared for the environment upon which we were so dependent.
When I was 10, my brothers and I assumed full operation of the farm. We planted and harvested all of the crops, cared for the livestock, and repaired and maintained the equipment and buildings. My brother owns and runs that farm today. Through that experience I learned the value of hard work, cooperative decision making, work distribution, and completing a job the right way the first time. The values and work ethic instilled in me as a kid are still with me.
Coal was a part of our daily lives; that's how we heated our home. I also knew many people who worked in the mines so I saw first-hand the value placed on a job in the mines tempered by the effects of poor safety regulations and the environmental havoc wreaked by unfettered mining. Through friends and family I witnessed the benefits of improved safety and environmental standards.
Like four of my siblings, I worked my way through college using a combination of summer jobs, work study, education grants, and Social Security, as my dad died while I was in high school. I have worked as a laborer for masons, in general construction, in a plant that fabricated steel buildings, in flood cleanup, and as a security guard. After getting my BA from the PennsylvaniaStateUniversity I attended law school and received my law degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
It would be an honor and privilege to serve America, its citizens and environment, and President Obama as Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to testify. I am ready to answer questions.