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December 2007, VOL. 25, NO. 4

Registration Opens for IMCC 2008 Annual Meeting Scheduled for Teton Village, Wyoming

The Interstate Mining Compact Commission (IMCC) will hold its 2008 Annual Meeting May 18 - 21 at the Teton Mountain Lodge in Teton Village (Jackson Hole), Wyoming.

A Welcome Reception will kick-off the meeting on the evening of Sunday, May 18. On Monday morning, May 19, a General Session with a variety of speakers will be followed by a joint meeting of the Noncoal Section of the Environmental Affairs Committee and the Mine Safety and Health Committee. A social networking event is being planned to follow the committee meeting Monday afternoon and evening.

The Coal Section of the Environmental Affairs Committee will meet jointly with the Abandoned Mine Lands Committee on Tuesday, May 20. Tuesday evening the annual Awards Reception and Banquet will take place.

The Resolutions and Finance and Administrative Committees will meet jointly on the morning of Wednesday, May 21 and be immediately followed by the Executive Commission Annual Business Meeting. The meeting is expected to conclude by 1:00 p.m. on May 21.

Hotel reservation information and a registration form are included in this newsletter. Potential attendees are advised to read the hotel reservation and cancellation policies very carefully prior to making reservations. Information regarding the meeting can also be found on our website at: www.imcc.isa.us (click on the “Conference Info” link).

Contact: Beth A. Botsis, Director of Programs, phone: 703.709.8654 or E-Mail: bbotsis@imcc.isa.us.

Congress Approves Significant Funding Increase for States in Omnibus Spending Bill

In the final hours of its first session, the 110th Congress approved a massive federal omnibus spending bill that contains a significant increase for state Title V grants that fund regulatory programs for active coal mining operations. The new funding measure provides for a $9 million increase for Title V grants over FY 2007 levels for a total of $65.5 million. An across-the-board 1.5% rescission will reduce this amount to about $64.3 million, but the overall increase will greatly assist the states in effectively running their programs. In testimony and congressional briefings throughout the past year, the Interstate Mining Compact Commission has strongly advocated for a sizeable increase in funding for state regulatory grants. Over the past ten years, these grants have stagnated, resulting in some states considering the potential of turning back all or portions of their programs to the federal government.

IMCC Testifies at Senate Oversight Hearing on SMCRA

The Interstate Mining Compact Commission (IMCC) testified at an oversight hearing conducted by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on November 13 concerning implementation of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). IMCC Executive Director Greg Conrad was joined by Joanna Prukop, Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources, in presenting the states’ perspective on SMCRA’s successes and challenges. Other witnesses included Office of Surface Mining (OSM) Director Brent Wahlquist, and representatives from the Navajo Nation, the National Mining Association, the United Mine Workers, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

In his testimony, Mr. Conrad noted that “by almost all accounts, the implementation of SMCRA by the states has been a resounding success. The anticipated purposes of the Act have been or are being accomplished and the overall goal of establishing a nationwide program to protect society and the environment from the adverse effects of past and present surface coal mining operations has been achieved.” Copies of IMCC’s testimony are available by contacting Greg Conrad at gconrad@imcc.isa.us

OSM Issues Final Rules on Ownership and Control

The Office of Surface Mining (OSM) recently issued final rules that narrow the scope and reduce the reporting and disclosure requirements of the agency’s rules on ownership and control and also clarify and improve the regulations concerning the transfer, assignment or sale of permit rights. The rules support OSM’s Applicant/Violator System (AVS), which is used to block the issuance of permits to coal operators with outstanding violations or permit conditions. The final rules have been in a constant state of flux over the past 20 years due to litigation challenging their interpretation and application. Among other things, the new rules provide new definitions of “owns” and “controls” and address such matters as improvidently issued permits, challenging AVS links, criminal and civil penalties, surety bonds, and the transfer, assignment or sale of permit rights. The rules became effective on January 2, 2008.

OSM Announces AML Grant Distributions to States

On December 17th, the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) announced that $274 million is available in Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 grants for states and Indiana tribes to restore abandoned mine lands (AML), treat acid mine drainage and for other uses. OSM stated in its press release that the FY 2008 funds are more than double the size of grants available in FY 2007.

OSM’s grant distribution comes on the heels of the agency’s release on December 6th of new procedures for distributing mandatory funding to states and tribes for AML projects. The revisions were required by the 2006 Amendments to Title IV of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). These amendments extended the Interior Department’s authority to collect AML fees through September 30, 2021 and made the majority of the funding available to states and tribes mandatory and without further appropriation by Congress. Implementing the amendments required Interior to make several decisions to clarify legal points in order to make available the Fiscal Year 2008 funds to states and Indian tribes with AML reclamation programs under SMCRA.

The 2006 Amendments provide that in addition to the funds distributed to eligible states and tribes based on Interior’s prior year AML fee collections, each state and tribe will be paid, over the next seven years, the equivalent of its unappropriated state or tribal share balance from Treasury funds. Theses unappropriated share balances – the difference between the amount of AML fee collection funds allocated to the state or tribe by law and the amount that Congress had appropriated – will remain in the AML fund and continue to earn interest to be transferred to the United Mine Workers of America health benefit plans. The first of these Treasury payments to states and tribes for unappropriated share balances will be made as part of the FY 2008 distribution.

States and tribes that have not completed all of their coal reclamation projects will use the existing grants procedures to continue AML coal work. States and tribes that have been certified as having completed their AML projects will be able to apply for grants for their equivalent unappropriated state or tribal balance funds. The grants process for these certified states and tribes is being streamlined to reduce paperwork and eliminate the requirement for subsequent approvals for projects or expenditures under the grants as long as all known coal problems are addressed.

“These decisions are consistent with guidance from the Office of the Solicitor as to how funds must be distributed and used,” said Brent Wahlquist, Director of OSM. “They confirm the original intent of the Surface Mining Act that the AML fees be used for coal reclamation purposes,” he said.

The 2006 Amendments require a phase-in of the mandatory $3 million AML funding for uncertified “maximum program” states. OSM is working with the Solicitor’s office to ensure that states receive maximum benefit for their AML programs. Full funding would begin in Fiscal Year 2012.

The 2006 Amendments are self implementing. However, OSM anticipates revising its permanent program regulations to make them consistent with the 2006 Amendments before the FY2009 distribution.

IMCC Holds Benchmarking Workshop on Surface and Groundwater Database Development and Use

The Interstate Mining Compact Commission (IMCC) sponsored a benchmarking workshop on “Surface and Ground Water Database Development and Use in State Mining Regulatory Programs” on December 4 and 5 in New Orleans. A total of 55 state and federal agency representatives attended the workshop, which was highlighted by presentations from several states and the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) concerning existing and developing database efforts related to water data. A CD with all of the powerpoint presentations from the workshop is available from IMCC by contacting Greg Conrad at gconrad@imcc.isa.us.

IMCC Submits Comments on OSM’s Stream Buffer Zone Rule

The Interstate Mining Compact Commission (IMCC) recently submitted comments to the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) regarding its proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement on stream buffer zones and excess spoil disposal. In its comments, IMCC noted that its analysis of the rule suggests that by expanding the scope of the rule to include all “Waters of the United States” instead of just perennial and intermittent streams, OSM is further complicating the situation addressed by the rules. “The term waters of the U.S. is fraught with unresolved issues and jurisdictional difficulties, particularly in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings [on the matter],” IMCC noted. With regard to the alternatives analysis that has been proposed for excess spoil fills and coal mine waste disposal, IMCC stated that the model proposed by OSM in its rules will “result in unending litigation concerning whether the correct alternative was selected by the permit applicant and approved by the state regulatory authority.” IMCC asserted that the time and effort that will be required by states’ permitting personnel to adequately review and rule upon these alternative analyses will be potentially overwhelming. IMCC also noted that the alternative analysis is duplicative of requirements under the Clean Water Act that are already encompassed by the SMCRA permitting scheme.

“Good Samaritan” Legislation Introduced in House

Representative Mark Udall (D-CO) recently introduced legislation designed to eliminate various liability hurdles and enable select third-parties to remediate abandoned hardrock mine sites. Udall introduced the “Good Samaritan Cleanup of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2007" (H.R. 4011), with Representative Steve Pearce (R-NM) joining as co-sponsor. The bill calls for a program to encourage hardrock mine remediation by creating a “Good Sam” permit program under the Clean Water Act. The program would allow non-governmental organizations, individuals and companies to obtain limited permits for the cleanup of abandoned hardrock mines.

OSM to Host Geospatial Conference in March 2008

The Office of Surface Mining (OSM) recently announced that its National Technical Innovation and Professional Services Program and the National Technical Training Program will host the 2008 Geospatial Conference March 25-27 in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference, being held in conjunction with the Interstate Mining Compact Commission (IMCC), the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs (NAAMLP) and the Western Interstate Energy Board (WIEB), will focus on incorporating geospatial technology into the administration process of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). Topics for the conference will focus on activities to promote the use of geospatial technology in SMCRA programs. The conference will also include sessions for managers to discuss business case scenarios for incorporating geospatial technologies into the SMCRA business process. More information, including registration details, is available at: www.tips.osmre.gov/Geospatial2008/reigstration_info.htm.

Upcoming IMCC Meetings:

May 18-21, 2008, Teton Village, Wyoming: IMCC 2008 Annual Meeting (Click the "Conference Info" link for more information and downloadable registration form.)
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