In a March 2010 legal settlement with environmental groups, Pizarchik and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar agreed that OSM would "use best efforts" to issue its own proposed rule by Feb. 28, 2011.
But Pizarchik repeatedly told reporters on Friday that his agency was in the very early stages, and that the draft study and draft regulations that have surfaced in media reports were nowhere near ready to be shown to the public.
"It is important to understand that we are at the start of this rulemaking process," he said. "That is an important rulemaking and we will move through it thoughtfully and deliberately."
Initial reports by The Associated Press focused on parts of the draft OSM study that projected the agency's preferred alternative rule could eliminate about 7,000 coal jobs, mostly in Appalachia. But the study also showed that nationwide coal production would still increase, and that the proposal would reduce by 20 percent the length of streams buried each year by mining operations in the Appalachian coalfields.
Pizarchik said Friday that some of the numbers in the draft documents were inaccurate. But when pressed, he offered no examples and backtracked, saying instead that OSM hadn't verified the figures yet and didn't know if they were right or wrong.
Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel with the group Earthjustice, said she noticed that OSM draft study identified a preferred approach for its new rule, despite Pizarchik now saying that the agency doesn't know if the figures in its impact study are correct. That makes it appear that OSM has picked an alternative before completing a trustworthy draft analyzing the impacts of various alternatives, Mulhern said.
"This feels rigged," said Mulhern, whose group reached the legal settlement requiring OSM to propose a rule by Feb. 28. She said it seems unlikely that OSM will meet the agreed-to deadline.
"Obviously, they're way far behind," Mulhern said. "But they've already decided what they are going to do and it looks like they are trying to manipulate the analysis to fit what they want to do."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.