The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Obama Strip-Mining Pick Bad News for Coal Country

Industry-Friendly State Regulator Signals There Will Be No Crackdown on Abuses


President Obama's choice to run the Office of Surface Mining
signifies that campaign promises to end environmentally destructive
coal mining practices, such as mountain-top removal, will be abandoned,
according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Placating the coal industry is evolving into the central plank of the
administration's environmental agenda.

In July, after months of internal wrangling, President Obama
passed over some prominent mining reform candidates to select Joseph G.
Pizarchik, a long-time Pennsylvania mining regulator to head the Office
of Surface Mining Reclamation, and Enforcement (OSM). Pizarchik is well
liked by industry and loathed by coal community groups and
environmentalists, many of which are opposing his confirmation.

During his tenure at Pennsylvania's Bureau of Mining and
Reclamation, Pizarchik has hewn a solidly pro-industry line on topics
such as acid mine drainage, subsidence from longwall mining and using
mining slag as valley fill. In particular, Pizarchik has become a
leading advocate for disposal of toxic industrial coal ash in coal mine
sites, contending that it is a "beneficial use" of the same coal
combustion waste involved in the disastrous TVA spill this past

Perhaps most disturbingly, during his August 6th confirmation
hearing Pizarchik claimed ignorance on the issue of mountain-top
removal or what changes the Obama administration might propose, since
that mining technique is not widely used in his state. Given his
industry orientation and the administration's aversion to reformers, it
would be more than mildly surprising for Pizarchik to ultimately take a
strong environmental stand once confirmed. The Senate Committee on
Energy & Natural Resources has yet to vote on his nomination.

"It is appointments like this that are causing many to become
disillusioned with the Obama presidency," stated PEER Executive
Director Jeff Ruch, noting an Obama campaign promise to curb
mountain-top removals from which his administration has backed away,
approving scores of permits for mountain-top mining. "Putting forward a
nominee who claims ignorance on a central issue so that his true
position cannot be discerned is the sort of cynical politics I thought
President Obama vowed to change."

Born from a history of coalfield tragedies, OSM was created in 1977
to protect the communities and land from irreversible harm and assure
prompt, thorough reclamation once mining was completed. The law that
President Carter signed has never lived up to its promise, however. The
Pizarchik nomination denotes that reform of OSM will not be a priority
in this administration either.

Apparently staying in place as Deputy OSM Director is Glenda Owens
who was named to that post in 2001 by President Bush. Owens has a long
record of defending mountain-top removal and was the Bush
administration's lead spokesperson on the issue.

"OSM is a demoralized, hollowed-out agency and the prospects are it will stay that way," Ruch added.

See coal country citizen opposition letter opposing Pizarchik

Read a letter from Pizarchik illustrating why environmental groups disrespect him

Look at the White House announcement of the Pizarchik nomination

View Obama administration retreat on curbing mountain-top removal

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.