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June 2009, VOL. 27, NO. 2

IMCC 2009 Annual Meeting Held in Anchorage, Alaska

The Interstate Mining Compact Commission’s (IMCC) 2009 Annual Meeting was held at The Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska from April 26 - 29, 2009.

A reception kicked off the meeting on the evening of Sunday, April 26. On Monday, April 27, attendees were welcomed by Rosanne Hughes, Director of External Communications in the office of Governor Sarah Palin. General Session speakers addressed various Alaska mining topics of interest including: “An Overview of Mining, Development, and Exploration Activities in Alaska” by Bob Swenson, Director and State Geologist, Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Services; “Update on Recent Litigation Affecting Mining Development in Alaska” by Ed Fogels, Division Director, Alaska Office of Project Management and Permitting; “The Economic Impacts of Mining to Alaska” by Steve Borell, Executive Director, Alaska Miners Association; and “Unique Aspects of Mining in Alaska” by Bartly Coiley, Manager, Environmental Affairs, Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc. The General Session was followed by a joint meeting of the Mine Safety and Health and Noncoal Environmental Affairs Committees. In the evening attendees enjoyed a social reception during which nearby sites were viewed on board the Alaska Railroad.

On Tuesday, April, 28, the Abandoned Mine Lands and Coal Environmental Affairs Committees met jointly. Office of Surface Mining (OSM) Acting Director Glenda Owens, OSM’s Regional Directors Al Klein, Erv Barchenger, and Tom Shope and other OSM staff addressed the committee on the status of current OSM issues of interest to the states. IMCC’s Annual Awards Reception and Banquet were held that evening. The 2009 IMCC reclamation award and minerals education award winners were recognized at the banquet and the awards were presented.

The Resolutions and Finance and Administrative Committee meetings were held on the morning of Wednesday, April 29, followed by the Executive Commission Annual Business Meeting, which concluded the Annual Meeting.

IMCC Comments on OSM's FY 2010 Budget

The Interstate Mining Compact Commission (IMCC) submitted a statement to the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee on May 21 regarding the proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 budget for the Office of Surface Mining (OSM). IMCC strongly endorsed a proposed increase for state Title V regulatory grants under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) as a “welcome shift in direction that recognizes the important role played by the states in implementing the environmental protection provisions of SMCRA”. IMCC also supported funding for OSM’s training program and for the agency’s TIPS program, which provides technical support for the states. IMCC took OSM to task, however, for proposals that would eliminate mandatory funding for states and tribes who have certified that all of their abandoned coal reclamation work has been accomplished and for eliminating funding for the AML emergency program. With regard to the elimination of funding for certified states and tribes, IMCC stated that “this reduction flies in the face of the comprehensive restructuring of the AML program that was passed by Congress in 2006, following over 10 years of congressional debate and hard fought compromise among the affected parties.” On the matter of funding for the AML emergency program, IMCC noted that “this funding has allowed the states and OSM to address the unanticipated AML emergencies that inevitably occur each year. In states that have federally-operated emergency programs, the state AML programs are not structured or staffed to move quickly to address these dangers and safeguard the coalfield citizens whose lives and property are threatened by these unforeseen and often debilitating events. And for minimum program states, emergency funding is critical to preserve the limited resources available to them under the current funding formula.” A copy of IMCC’s full statement is available by request from Greg Conrad by calling 703.709.8654, or e-mail: gconrad@imcc.isa.us.

IMCC Executive Director Forecasts Legislative and Regulatory Developments Re Coal Ash

The Interstate Mining Compact Commission’s (IMCC) Executive Director Greg Conrad presented a paper on “Recent Legislative and Regulatory Developments re the Use of Coal Combustion By-Products in Mine Reclamation” at Ohio State University (OSU) on May 20, as part of OSU’s Coal Combustion Products Extension Program. Mr. Conrad provided an overview of the various reactions to the December 22, 2008 coal ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County, Tennessee. In response to a flurry of activity on Capitol Hill in the way of oversight hearings, legislation and resolutions, Conrad noted that EPA announced it would develop a regulatory proposal addressing the matter by the end of the calendar year. He also provided an overview of recent attempts by the Office of Surface Mining to develop a regulatory proposal that would focus on mine placement of coal ash. “From where I sit, there is little doubt that we are going to see some additional federal regulation in the area of mine placement of coal ash – and likely for both coal and noncoal mines,” Conrad stated. “And Congress will make sure that this happens. The challenge is going to be to craft these rules in a way that does not duplicate existing authorities, that provides maximum flexibility and discretion to the states to accommodate regional differences, and that incorporates a common sense approach that is consistent with the science.”

Regional Meetings Provide Forum for State/Federal Discussions

The Office of Surface Mining (OSM) recently sponsored meetings in its Mid-Continent Region and Appalachian Region with state regulatory authorities to discuss mutual issues of concern and to receive updates on key issues from the states and others. Among the topics discussed at the June 2 and 3 meeting in St. Louis were postmining land uses, non-mining impacts on potential bond release areas, predicting cropland productivity success, topsoil substitution, and geomorphic reclamation. At the June 9 and 10 meeting in Pittsburgh, issues for discussion included underground mine injection, NPDES permits at bond forfeiture sites, the interrelationship between Clean Water Act 402 and 404 permitting requirements and the SMCRA permitting process, the Marcellus Shale development in Appalachia, alternative bonding and treatment trust funds, and passive mine treatment technologies. An overview on the outlook for coal production was provided by Emily Medine of Energy Ventures Analysis, Inc. Also on the agenda at both meetings were Title IV Abandoned Mine Land (AML) grants and Title V regulatory grants, state program amendments, Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) performance measures, and reports from the states.

Obama Administration Announces Interagency Action Plan Re Mountaintop Coal Mining

Obama Administration officials recently announced that they are taking unprecedented steps to reduce the environmental impacts of mountaintop coal mining in the six Appalachian states of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia through a coordinated approach between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Interior (DOI) and Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).

Through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by Lisa P. Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior; and Terrence “Rock” Salt, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, the Administration will implement an Interagency Action Plan on mountaintop coal mining that is intended to:
  • Minimize the adverse environmental consequences of mountaintop coal mining through short-term actions to be completed in 2009;
  • Undertake longer-term actions to tighten the regulation of mountaintop coal mining;
  • Ensure coordinated and stringent environmental reviews of permit applications under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA);
  • Engage the public through outreach events in the Appalachian region to help inform the development of Federal policy; and
  • Direct federal agencies to coordinate with appropriate regional, state, and local entities to help diversify and strengthen the Appalachian regional economy and promote the health and welfare of Appalachian communities.
The Corps and EPA will take immediate steps under the CWA intended to “minimize environmental harm” by taking the following actions in 2009:
  • Requiring more stringent environmental reviews for future permit applications for mountaintop coal mining;
  • Within 30 days of the date of the MOU, the Corps will issue a public notice (pursuant to 33 C.F.R. 330.5) proposing to modify Nationwide Permit (NWP) 21 to preclude its use to authorize the discharge of fill material into streams for surface coal mining activities in the Appalachian region, and will seek public comment on the proposed action;
  • Strengthening permit reviews under CWA regulations (Section 404(b)(1)) to reduce the harmful direct and cumulative environmental impacts of mountaintop coal mining on streams and watersheds;
  • Strengthening EPA coordination with states on water pollution permits for discharges from valley fills and state water quality certifications for mountaintop coal mining operations; and
  • Improving stream mitigation projects to increase ecological performance and compensate for losses of these important waters of the United States.
DOI will also take the following steps:
  • Reevaluate and determine how the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) will more effectively conduct oversight of state permitting, state enforcement, and regulatory activities under SMCRA;
  • Ensure the protection of wildlife resources and endangered species by coordinating the development of CWA guidance with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS); and
  • If the U.S. District Court vacates the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule, as requested by the Secretary of the Interior on April 27, 2009, Interior will issue guidance clarifying the application of stream buffer zone provisions in a preexisting 1983 SMCRA regulation to ensure mining activities will occur in a more environmentally protective way in or near Appalachian streams.
Concurrent with these short-term actions, the three agencies will embark on a comprehensive, coordinated review of their existing respective regulations and procedures governing mountaintop coal mining under existing law. The agencies will also create an interagency working group to promote ongoing Federal collaboration and ensure the Action Plan achieves results. As these reforms are implemented, the agencies will seek to involve the public and guide Federal actions through public comment and outreach.

Obama Nominates New BLM Director

President Obama recently nominated Bob Abbey as the new director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Mr. Abbey is currently a private consultant specializing in western land and resource strategies, but had previously been a long time official with BLM.

According to a June 9 Interior Department statement, Abbey has more than 32 years in public service at both state and federal land management agencies. He served eight years as the Nevada state director of BLM and retired from the federal government in July 2005.

“Through his decades of public service, Bob Abbey has shown again and again that he is the consummate professional natural resource manager,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said. “His dedication to our country’s national system of public lands and his commitment to building partnerships make him an ideal choice to lead one of the most complex federal land managing agencies.”

WV Land Law May be at Odds with Federal Mining Plan

The state of West Virginia recently passed a land-use law intended to create developable land and thereby create economic opportunity from reclaimed surface mines in West Virginia’s coalfields. Governor Manchin says the law could conflict with the goals of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Interior Department (DOI) and Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to tighten regulation of mountaintop removal coal mining. The federal agencies’ goal is to reduce environmental impact from mountaintop coal mining, a practice that generates excess material that must be disposed of in nearby valleys.

“There’s no plateaus, there’s nothing flat, there’s nothing to build on,” Manchin stated, adding that creating buildable land is essential to adding renewable energy sources such as crops for making ethanol. “We need some agricultural land, we need wind farms, we need solar. We can start developing things from that and we can be part of this new greening of America.”

The state’s land use bill is intended to give municipal government a say in how mine lands are reclaimed after the coal has been removed.

“The cardinal sin of site development is moving dirt twice,” West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman said. “If you have a plan, which in this case will be the county’s plan, then the mine plan can comport with the county’s land use plan. That way your site is developed and configured to a specification that the county has already decided upon and then it’s good whether it’s developed in one year or 20.”

Congressional Members Write Corps of Engineers Re Concerns Over Backlog of Mining Permits

A letter was recently sent by Representatives Zack Space (D-OH), John Boccieri (D-OH), Jerry Costello (D-IL), Brad Ellsworth (D-IN), Phil Hare (D-IL), Baron Hill (D-IN), Nick Rahall (D-WV), Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Charlie Wilson (D-OH) of the U.S. House of Representatives representing districts with coal mining operations throughout the Ohio River Valley to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Brigadier General John W. Peabody to express their “deep concern with the growing backlog of coal mining permit applications currently pending in the U.S. Corps of Engineers District Engineers’ Office under your command.” They also warned of the “grave consequences for our constituents and local economies” posed by these delays.

The letter states that media reports placed the backlog in the range of 150 - 200 permits. They wrote, “The Environmental Protection Agency’s recent announcement that it plans to review pending coal mining permit applications raises the prospect that the backlog will only continue to grow,” and that “it would seem EPA had more than an adequate opportunity to review and comment on these applications,” many having been pending for a year or more.

In the June 1 letter, the House members also state that the permits are necessary to “create and sustain some of the highest paying jobs in our states. Second, in addition to miners employed at these operations, the products and services purchased to support their construction and operation creates thousands of other jobs. Third, the coal produced at these operations provides affordable and reliable electricity that keep factories and businesses competitive. Finally, the tax revenues from coal mining fund schools and other vital government services. In sum, we have significant concerns about policies that impeded economic development in a difficult economic time.”

The House members asked the Corps to furnish information in response to several questions:
  • How many coal mining permit applications are currently pending in each District Engineers Office;
  • How many of these pending permit applications have had public notices issued by the District engineers before February 24, 2009;
  • Under the Corps regulations for processing permits, how many of the pending permit applications were available for EPA review and comment prior to its announcement that it would conduct further review of pending permits;
  • What, if any, criteria has EPA furnished the district engineers about which permits EPA will subject to further review as indicated in the agency’s recent announcement.
They also asked if the Corps has “developed a plan that will clear the backlog of coal mining permits and assure processing of future applications within the time frames provided for in the agency’s regulations.”

Obama Nominates New Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy

President Obama recently nominated James J. Markowsky, a former electric utility official, as the new assistant secretary for fossil energy at the Department of Energy. Markowsky, a member of the National Research Council’s Committee on America’s Energy Future and a member and chair of the National Academy of Engineering’s Electric Power/Energy Systems Committee, is currently a consultant in the energy and electric power generation area. He was the executive vice president of power generation at American Electric Power Service Corporation (AEP) from 1971 - 2000, where his responsibilities included providing overall administrative, operational and technical direction for the AEP System’s 21,000MWe coal and 800Mwe hydro power generating facilities.

Upcoming IMCC Meetings
  • IMCC E-Permitting Workshop: Late October, 2009. Dates and Location TBD.
  • IMCC 2009 Mid-Year Meeting and Noncoal Minerals Summit: November 17 - 19, 2009, The Curtis Hotel, Denver, Colorado.
  • IMCC 2010 Annual Meeting: April 11 - 14, 2010, Marriott Grand Hotel, Point Clear, Alabama.
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