CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Department of Interior study of potential new restrictions on surface coal mining outlines projected production shifts and job losses as well as estimated environmental benefits of tougher regulations, according to a draft report obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Yearly Appalachian coal production would drop by 13 percent over the next decade, but annual impacts to streams and the land would be cut by 20 percent, under Interior's preferred version of a new stream protection rule outlined in the draft report.
Nationwide coal production would increase slightly, but roughly 7,000 mining jobs would disappear -- mostly in the Appalachian coalfields -- if the Interior Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement's preferred changes were adopted, according to the report.
The Obama administration has tried to distance itself from the draft study since a version of it was leaked and The Associated Press last week reported on the potential job losses, but not other aspects of the document.
"The current draft of the EIS isn't OSM's and doesn't reflect our input or reviews," Peter Mali, a spokesman for OSM, said Wednesday. "The document is a very early working draft. We have not adopted the numbers that are in the draft or any other aspects of the draft."
OSM Director Joe Pizarchik refused requests for an interview, but issued a letter to newspaper editors and publishers that said the initial media coverage "misrepresents the facts."
"As required by law, OSM will consider in the [study] a reasonable range of alternatives, which may vary from not revising the rule at all, to alternatives that may greatly restrict the way that surface coal mining is conducted," the letter said. "The alternative cited in the article is one of several being considered, and the potential job impacts cited in the article relate to only one of the options that the draft [study] will evaluate."
Last week's leak occurred as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is under fire for its crackdown on Clean Water Act permits for mining operations and as Republicans in the U.S. House have promised to put increased pressure on EPA over its efforts to more strictly regulate mining and institute limits on coal's greenhouse gas emissions.
On Tuesday, the Gazette obtained a copy of the draft study through a Freedom of Information Act request submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection. OSM had provided DEP and mining regulators in other states with the draft to allow state agencies early input prior to a formal public comment period.