H.R. 2824: Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act

H.R. 2824

Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act

Date
March 25, 2014 (113th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
Emily Leviner

Floor Situation

On Tuesday, March 25, 2014, the House will consider H.R. 2824, the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act, under a rule.  H.R. 2824 was introduced on July 25, 2013 by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) and was referred to House Committee on Natural Resources.  The bill was marked up on November 14, 2013 and was ordered reported by a vote of 24-15.[1]

Bill Summary

H.R. 2824 requires states to incorporate into their state programs on surface coal mining and reclamation management the 2008 “Stream Buffer Zone Rule,”[1] which the Administration rejected, despite an extensive rulemaking process.  States must implement the requirements within two years of the bill’s enactment.  H.R. 2824 then requires a five-year assessment of the 2008 rule and a comprehensive report to Congress on the rule’s impact.  The report is to include an analysis of the rule’s effectiveness, any barriers to energy production, a description of any proposed changes that should be made to the rule, and justification for such changes.  The bill prohibits the initiation of new rulemaking on a stream buffer zone rule until the report has been published.



[1] The 2008 rule, officially entitled the “Excess Spoil, Coal Mine Waste, and Buffers for Perennial and Intermittent Streams,” regulates the spoil and waste from surface coal mining operations and reclamation operations that occur close to streams.

Background

“The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) is the primary federal law that regulates the environmental effects of coal mining in the United States.  SMCRA created two programs: title V for regulating active coal mines and title IV for reclaiming abandoned mine lands.  SMCRA also created the Office of Surface Mining (OSM), an agency within the Department of the Interior, to promulgate regulations, to fund state regulatory and reclamation programs, and to ensure consistency among state regulatory programs.”[1]  If a state has surface coal mining operations on non-federal lands and wishes to assume exclusive jurisdiction, or “primacy,” over surface coal mining and reclamation projects, SMCRA requires the state to submit a state program that shows its ability to carry out SMCRA.[2]

In 2008, after a five-year rulemaking process involving extensive environmental review and public input, the final rule on “Excess Spoil, Coal Mine Waste, and Buffers for Perennial and Intermittent Streams”—commonly referred to as the Stream Buffer Zone Rule—was published.[3]  The rule regulates spoil and waste from surface coal mining operations and reclamation operations that occur close to streams.  Although the rule was scheduled to go into effect in January of 2009, it was withdrawn by OSM after a lawsuit was filed by environmental groups.[4]  OSM then attempted to put into place a more restrictive regulation, but a court ruled against it under the Administrative Procedure Act, as the new regulation had not gone through a formal rulemaking process.[5]  Ultimately, OSM entered into an agreement with the environmental groups to promulgate a new regulation in an unachievable timeframe.[6]

The Administration then “spent millions of taxpayer dollars and hired new contractors to do the rewrite; fired the contractors when the news media revealed that their analysis showed the revision would cost 7,000 jobs and economic harm in 22 states; attempted to manipulate data to conceal the true economic impact; and is now refusing to answer basic questions on the status of the rewrite.”[7]  Litigation by environmental groups was reignited in January of 2013 after OSM missed the agreed upon deadlines for the new rulemaking, prompting multiple requests by Congress for information on the current status of the rule.[8]  Delayed responses to these requests were so redacted that they essentially withheld all relevant information from Congress.[9]

The Administration has spent almost $10 million over the past five years in rewriting the regulation, but has not yet produced anything.[10]  In investigating the matter, the House Natural Resources Committee has “exposed gross mismanagement of the rulemaking process, potential political interference, and widespread economic harm the proposed regulation would cause.”[11]  H.R. 2824 addresses this issue by implementing the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule and establishing a procedure that must be followed in developing any new rule.  The bill saves taxpayer funds and provides certainty to states and industry participants who are currently unsure about the rules on the ground.



[1] Id. at 2.

[2] 30 U.S.C. § 1253.  “Twenty-five states and three Tribal Nations have coal operations.  Twenty-three states have primacy (this means that the state has the responsibility for carrying out the provisions of SMCRA within the state) over the title V and title IV programs in their states.  Two Tribal Nations have submitted regulatory programs under title V to OSM for approval for primacy.  Currently the 23 primacy states are still operating under the 1983 stream buffer zone rule.  The 2008 rule only affects Tennessee, Washington and the three Tribal Nations—the Crow, Navajo and Hopi.”  Committee Report 113-364 at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at 2-3.

[5] Id. at 3.

[7] Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act (H.R. 2824), House Natural Resources Committee.

[8] Committee Report 113-364 at 4.

[9] Id.

[10] Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act (H.R. 2824), House Natural Resources Committee.

[11] Id.

Cost

According to CBO estimates, implementing H.R. 2824 would have no significant impact on the federal budget.  Any effect of H.R. 2824 on direct spending would be negligible and the bill would not affect revenues.

Amendments

1)         Rep. Lowenthal (D-CA) Amendment #5Amendment requires States to implement the June 30, 1983 Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement stream buffer zone rule, unless a State has a program with greater stream protection.   

2)         Rep. Cartwright (D-PA) Amendment #1Amendment ensures that states maintain the ability to issue their own stream buffer rules. 

Additional Information

For questions or further information contact the GOP Conference at 5-5107.