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Interior moves ahead with OSM-BLM plans

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Obama administration announced Tuesday that it will follow through on a proposal to merge certain functions of the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement with another federal agency.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the plan would generate "savings and efficiencies" by having the Bureau of Land Management provide some support services for OSM.

OSM would maintain separate control -- and a separate chain of command -- for its role in overseeing state regulation of strip mining and running the federal program to clean up abandoned coal mines around the country.

"Implementing these actions will free up savings and management time that can be used to strengthen OSM's capacity to oversee surface coal mining operations, while maintaining the agency's independence," Salazar said in a news release.

The administration announced its proposal in October, and since then the merger has drawn harsh criticism from both industry officials and citizen group activists. Coalfield lawmakers have also questioned the proposal.

In the face of that criticism, Interior officials appear to have scaled back the merger. For example, an initial plan to integrate OSM's Abandoned Mine Lands program with BML appear to have been dropped.

According to a press release, OSM Director Joe Pizarchik will continue to report to Salazar through the assistant Interior secretary for Lands and Minerals Management.

OSM's coal-related regulatory functions will also remain separate from the BML's coal-leasing responsibilities on federal land.

Under the plan, the BLM will provide support services to OSM for vehicle fleet and other property management, equal opportunity compliance, ethics training and compliance, and non-technical employee training.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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