Previous appointments to key environmental positions in the Obama administration have been generally applauded by environmental groups. Until now!
Over the objection of coal-field activists, Joseph G. Pizarchik has been nominated by the administration to the office of Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. Under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, this office in the Department of the Interior is responsible for protecting citizens and the environment during coal mining and the restoration of the land when surface mining is finished. That covers a lot of mining in Appalachia and the West.
Mr. Pizarchik’s nomination will have to be first approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Because of the possible impact of this appointment on surface mining, including Mountain Top Removal, and because of Mr. Pizarchik’s past record as described below, citizens are asked to:
E-mail Chairman Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s aide (sam_fowler at energy dot senate dot gov), and ask the aide to inform the Senator to NOT confirm Joseph Pizarchik as Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.
Mr. Pizarchik is well known to coal activists in Pennsylvania. Since 2002, he has been Director of the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation within the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Because of his record at DEP, the local coal activists join national organizations in strong opposition to Mr. Pizarchik’s nomination on the following grounds:
- Mr. Pizarchik has aggressively promoted the use of surface coal mines for disposal of millions of tons of coal ash annually.
- He has supervised the drafting of state regulations that weakened the state’s stream buffer zone rule allowing the filling of stream valleys in Pennsylvania.
- Under Mr. Pizarchik’s leadership DEP has failed to correct deficiencies in its bonding program, which fails to comply with SMCRA requirements that states ensure sufficient financial guarantees to reclaim land and prevent water pollution from coal mining.
- Mr. Pizarchik joined with the Bush Administration in attempting to prevent citizens from obtaining information under the Freedom of Information Act.
For more details, the following joint letter is from Earth Justice and the Sierra Club:
Earthjustice * Sierra Club
August 5, 2009
Hon. Jeff Bingaman, Chairman
United States Senate Committee on
Energy and Natural Resources
304 Dirksen Senate Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Re: Nomination of Joseph G. Pizarchik to the Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Department of the Interior
Dear Chairman Bingaman:
On behalf of the Sierra Club and Earthjustice’s millions of members and supporters, we write today to express concern regarding the nomination of Joseph Pizarchik to be the Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM). Our concerns involve his promotion of coal ash disposal in surface coal mines, his permitting of dangerous valley fills, his obstruction of public disclosure of agency information, and his failure to require full compliance with bonding requirements under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).
These issues are of utmost importance to our organizations. Specifically, we are concerned with the following policies and decisions pursued by Mr. Pizarchik during his seven-year tenure as the Director of the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation within the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP):
(1) The Promotion of the Disposal of Toxic Coal Ash in Mines
As Director of the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation, Mr. Pizarchik has aggressively promoted the use of surface coal mines for disposal of millions of tons of coal ash annually. Studies such as the 2007 report by the Clean Air Task Force, Impacts on Water Quality from Placement of Coal Combustion Waste in Pennsylvania Coal Mines, have documented contamination of water supplies from such dumping. Further, a 2006 report by the National Academies of Science on coal ash minefilling, Managing Coal Combustion Residues in Mines, recommends that alternatives to mine disposal should be considered before placement of ash, but if disposal in mines must occur, the report recommends that multiple safeguards should be imposed. To date, Mr. Pizarchik has resisted requiring these safeguards in Pennsylvania, including the isolation of the toxic ash from water. Pizarchik’s refusal to accept the National Academies of Science’s recommendations is extremely troubling. One of the prime responsibilities of the OSM Director in 2010 will be the promulgation of a national regulation governing coal ash minefilling. The OSM Director must be willing to promulgate regulations that at minimum fully comply with all recommendations of
the National Academies of Science and provide effective protection from this dangerous practice.
(2) Permitting of Valley Fills in Pennsylvania
In 2001, as primary regulatory counsel, Mr. Pizarchik supervised the drafting of state regulations that weakened the state’s stream buffer zone rule allowing the filling of stream valleys in Pennsylvania. Mr. Pizarchik’s promotion of valley fills that destroy streams is troubling. Recently, Interior Secretary Salazar announced that the Interior Department wishes to rescind Bush Administration changes to the federal Stream Buffer Zone rule, but it is not yet clear how the Department will enforce the 1983 rule with respect to valley fills – that is, whether or not they will require states to enforce the 100-foot buffer. The next Director of OSM must be someone who will require states to fully implement and enforce the Stream Buffer Zone rule. We have concerns about Mr. Pizarchik’s ability to fulfill that duty.
(3) The Failure to Require Sufficient Bonding for Coal Mines
A coalition of Pennsylvania environmental groups have waged a decade-long battle against the PADEP involving court and administrative proceedings because of the failure of the department under Mr. Pizarchik’s leadership to correct deficiencies in its bonding program, which fails to comply with SMCRA requirements that states ensure sufficient financial guarantees to reclaim land and prevent water pollution from coal mining. Despite a Court of Appeals’ ruling that the Pennsylvania program failed to satisfy SMCRA, Mr. Pizarchik’s latest efforts in 2009 to comply with the statute have still fallen short. Mr. Pizarchik’s record is extremely troubling because adequate bonding for reclamation and remediation is a cornerstone of SMCRA, and ensuring compliance with this essential safeguard must be a priority for the OSM Director.
(4) The Failure to Support Transparency in Decision-making
Mr. Pizarchik joined with the Bush Administration in attempting to prevent citizens from obtaining information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by claiming that correspondence between PADEP and OSM was eligible for protection from public disclosure as “intra-agency memorandums or letters.” Mr. Pizarchik’s apparent lack of support for transparency in agency decision-making is a quality unacceptable for the position of Director of OSM. He has also discouraged citizen input in the permitting process.
The above positions and decisions of Mr. Pizarchik conflict with the goals of our organizations to provide a healthy environment and reduce the adverse impacts from surface mining. As Director of OSM, Mr. Pizarchik will have the power to promote these views on a national scale and erode the protections intended by the Surface Mining Control Act in these critical areas. We urge the Committee to investigate these matters during the confirmation process and to work to ensure that the next Director of OSM is committed to protecting the health and environment of coalfield communities throughout the United States. Thank you for your consideration of our concerns.
Senior Legislative Counsel
Director, Environmental Quality Program