The OSM settled the litigation, and agency officials said they were working on a more "holistic approach" to protecting streams.
However, in 2010, portions of an early draft of an OSM study of its rule changes were leaked to the news media, prompting news accounts that the proposal could cost about 7,000 mining jobs nationwide. Those initial accounts, though, did not also detail potential environmental benefits or discuss major Central Appalachian coal production declines that are expected regardless of what sort of rule the OSM issues. The OSM fired the original study contractor, bringing allegations from industry supporters that agency officials wanted to cover up job-loss projections they didn't like.
Republican House leaders continued their criticism of the OSM during Tuesday's hearing, which they had titled, "War on Jobs: Examining the Operations of the Office of Surface Mining and the Status of the Stream Buffer Zone Rule."
Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., complained that the OSM spent $9 million on the Bush administration rule changes without ever implementing those amendments, and that "the ongoing inability to actually conduct rulemaking" has led to the 2014 timetable.
In January, a coalition of environmental groups went back to federal court to try to force the OSM to act. The case is pending in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
Pizarchik told lawmakers the stream protection rule is part of Obama's "all of the above" energy strategy and that "protecting people, land, water and the environment and promoting responsible coal mining are not mutually exclusive."
"We are modernizing our rules and using the best available technology and science to improve mining practices in order to minimize and mitigate environmental damage from surface coal mining," Pizarchik said.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.