Environmentalists Oppose Obama’s Nominee for Office of Surface Mining

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will be holding hearings tomorrow on the nomination of Joseph Pizarchik as head of the Office of Surface Mining.

But the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the Citizens Coal Council and the Environmental Integrity Project are asking coalfield citizens and environmentalists to call and write lawmakers to oppose Pizarchik.

The groups said they were "deeply disappointed and concerned" by Obama’s nomination and said confirmation of Pizarchik would be "a direct blow to the heart of all citizens living in the coalfields … and a victory for coal operators."

Pizarchik, with a legal background, was described by the administration as "a pragmatic innovator" credited with handing coal operators waivers of liability for the damage they’d done to the environment if they contributed in some indirect way toward "clean-up," while at the OSM in Pennsylvania.

The Office of Surface Mining has been plagued for years with major lapses of enforcement of environmental laws pertaining to egregious and rather blatant surface mining abuses. One of the above organizations cited examples of what Pizarchik would would bring to the job of OSM chief honcho:

-Valley fills burying streams under piles of coal refuse;

-Destructive longwall mining;

-Decreased citizen participation – and formats for public hearings and forums that are restrictive to citizens;

-Decreased transparency and accountability for the decisions of mining officials;

-The dumping of toxic coal combustion wastes into coal mines, often directly into drinking water supplies, without safeguards; and

-A bonding program that fails to guarantee reclamation of the land or prevent water pollution from coal mining operations.

Pizarchik was not Obama’s first choice. The original choice was "longtime Interior Department insider," Glenda Owens. As Captain Kirk James Murphy, M.D. wrote here last April,

Owens has a long history as one of Steven Griles’ helpers, assisting his attempts to burying ancient streams and hollows under toxic coal mining waste in a mad rush to roast the planet:

During her federal service, Glenda Owens has been one of the top officials fighting legal efforts by conservationists to limit valley fills, delaying reclamation standards and defending Bush cutbacks in clean-ups for abandoned mines. Owens also worked closely with former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles (a mining lobbyist now serving a prison sentence on corruption charges) to "streamline" strip mining permits by allowing operators to shortcut environmental reviews.

Mining lobbyists from the National Mining Association flipped out when the New York Times reported on March 23 that the EPA would begin an "aggressive review" of the strip mining permits that the Bush administration handed out like penny candy, citing potential harm to water quality. In classic "have it both ways" fashion, the EPA immediately released a statement walking it back, saying they were "not halting, holding or placing a moratorium on any of the mining permit applications."

Is Owens’ appointment a bone for mining interests? They’re no doubt thrilled about it– Kentucky residents, somewhat less so.

It’ll be interesting to see how the latest nominee fares. There will be environmentalists watching this very closely, I’m sure.

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