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All Sides Suspicious of OSM/BLM Consolidation Plan

January 23, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The U.S. Department of the Interior has proposed consolidating the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Many have expressed surprise and suspicion about the plan. The BLM is much larger, concentrated in the West and leases public land for mining, grazing and drilling. The smaller OSM regulates surface coal mines and has more offices in the East.

Aimee Erickson is the executive director of the national coalfield community group, Citizens Coal Council. She says she is afraid the already weak and smaller agency could see its mission watered down to nothing.

"If the OSM's ability to enforce and do oversight is diminished, we can't afford that in the coal fields."

One argument for consolidation is that OSM is much better at reclaiming abandoned mine lands, using funds from a per-ton fee on coal. Jason Bostic, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, says his constituents do not want to see the reclamation fund used to clean up BLM's backlog of abandoned non-coal mines.

"Consolidating all that money within the Bureau of Land Management should cause us and every coal miner who has a pension to be concerned about the potential loss of that money to reclamation activities that the Bureau of Land Management conducts."

Bostic points out how much suspicion the proposal has provoked, even to the point where both the industry and environmentalists are against it.

OSM was created to enforce the 1977 Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). Erickson says an agency like BLM, which exists in part to promote mining on public land, should not be overseeing the regulations in this law.

"If they do this, it could potentially affect SMCRA. Citizens worked very hard and very long to have that passed."

Interior Department officials say the consolidation would be more efficient. Erickson says the savings would be minimal, since the two agencies are so different and have barely any overlap.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV