For Immediate Release
Luke Eshleman (202) 265-7337
Obama Taps Bush Appointee to Run Surface Mining Agency
Choice May Signal Administration Cave-In on Opposition to Mountain Top Removal
WASHINGTON - Agency insiders report that President Obama has asked
a Bush holdover to remain in charge of the troubled Office of Surface Mining
Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM), according to Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). Glenda Owens has a long record of defending mountain
top removal, a controversial form of coal mining. In 2001, President George
W. Bush named her OSM Deputy Director, after she had served several years
as the lead agency lawyer defending OSM.
During her federal service, Glenda Owens has been one of the top officials
fighting legal efforts by conservationists to limit valley fills, delaying
reclamation standards and defending Bush cutbacks in clean-ups for abandoned
mines. Owens also worked closely with former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven
Griles (a mining lobbyist now serving a prison sentence on corruption charges)
to "streamline" strip mining permits by allowing operators to shortcut
The choice is also somewhat surprising in that presidential candidate Obama
spoke out against mountain top removal, saying "We're tearing up the
Appalachian Mountains because of our dependence on fossil fuels", and "We
have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal, than simply blowing
the tops off mountains." In March, the Obama administration signaled
that it might take action to curb mountain top removals but under pressure
appears to have backed off.
In tapping Owens, administration officials have passed over two candidates
backed by conservation and coalfield citizen groups: Joe Childers, a Lexington,
Kentucky, environmental lawyer and .Pat McGinley, a West Virginia University
law professor with long experience with coal mining health and safety as well
as coalfield reclamation laws.
Even strip mining proponents, such as Natural Resources Committee Chair Nick
Rahall (D-WV), concede that OSM is at low ebb. Rep. Rahall was quoted in the
April 11th Charleston Gazette as stating:
"The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement has lacked strong
leadership for a long time. It has abdicated its responsibility to enforce
the surface mining law, to dovetail environmental protection with coal production
and jobs. So I think we are at a crossroads here. We can either have
a strong leader at the helm who will conduct necessary oversight and enforcement
or watch the agency continue to sink in a quagmire of ineptitude."
"It is hard to imagine a poorer choice to lead this troubled agency," stated
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization backs McGinley for the
post. "Glenda Owens in no way resembles the type of change that Barack
Obama promised to bring."
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.