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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The nation's top strip-mining regulator said Friday his agency is still in the early stages of writing new stream protection rules, despite a court agreement that requires the rules to be proposed by the end of this month.
"We are only in the initial stages of the rulemaking process," said Joe Pizarchik, director of the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. "We are still in the information gathering and developmental mode."
Pizarchik held a short media briefing Friday, breaking a two-week silence about draft copies of an OSM study examining the potential impacts of various options for its new rules.
OSM is writing the rules in response to the Bush administration's elimination of a 1983 regulation that -- if it had been enforced -- would have prohibited mining activities within 100 feet of streams.
The Bush administration rule also included language aimed at requiring mine operators to minimize the size of valley fills, but Pizarchik said the language was "clearly not adequate."
"It rolled back a more reasonable rule and swung the pendulum too far in one direction," Pizarchik said.
He insisted that his agency is not out to eliminate mining jobs or shut down coal production.
"Jobs are very important, as well as the production of coal to help meet our nation's energy needs is very important, as well as protecting the environment, and protecting the citizens from the adverse impacts of coal mining," Pizarchik said. "We at OSM are charged with striking a balance of all of those activities."