Congress approved $11.3 billion to clean up abandoned mine lands in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, but environmental groups are worried that President Biden hasn’t chosen anyone to oversee how that money is spent on coal mines.
Passage of the infrastructure package was heralded by activists as a massive shipment of cash to help remedy the environmental legacy of abandoned coal mines that are littered throughout the U.S., including the Appalachia region.
While this was a victory, environmentalists say government decisions on how to use the money could stall without a nominee at the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, the federal agency tasked with regulating coal mine reclamation (Greenwire, Nov. 11).
This afternoon, Sierra Club and activists from the Appalachia region urged the president to nominate a director for OSMRE in order to make sure the money is “carefully administered.”
“Our communities deserve leadership from your Administration on these important issues,” stated the letter. “We need an OSMRE director who recognizes the challenges — and opportunities — in this moment of significant change and upheaval within the coal mining industry.”
They also made certain policy asks of the Biden administration, including a request that the president direct that money passed in the infrastructure bill only be spent on mines that closed before 1977, and that any nominee “objectively review” changes made to OSMRE regulations under former President Trump.
“As the coal mining industry contracts, coal operators are increasingly abandoning unreclaimed mine sites, leaving coalfield communities to contend with polluted streams, damaged aquifers, and heightened risks of landslides and flooding,” the letter stated.
This letter comes after Biden recently made picks for posts at other mining-related government agencies, including Christopher Williamson, a labor attorney and former staffer for West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, to run the Mine Safety and Health Administration (Greenwire, Dec. 3).
Under Trump, the director of OSMRE was Lanny Erdos, a former Ohio state environmental regulator. Erdos resigned from OSMRE on Jan. 20. Months later, he was hired by Eagle Specialty Materials LLC, a coal company with environmental liabilities (Greenwire, June 29).
The agency has not had an acting director since Erdos’ departure, according to the OSMRE website.
The White House could not be reached for comment.