- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 26, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. | The Obama administration’s own experts estimate their proposal for protecting streams from coal mining would eliminate thousands of jobs and slash production across much of the country, according to a government document obtained by the Associated Press.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement document says the agency’s preferred rules would impose standards for water quality and restrictions on mining methods that would affect the quality or quantity of streams near coal mines. The rules are supposed to replace George W. Bush-era regulations that set up buffer zones around streams and were aimed chiefly at mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

OSM's proposal — part of a draft environmental impact statement — would affect coal mines from Louisiana to Alaska.

The office, a branch of the Interior Department, estimated that the protections would trim coal production to the point that an estimated 7,000 of the nation’s 80,600 coal-mining jobs would be lost. Production would decrease or stay flat in 22 states, but climb 15 percent in North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.

An OSM spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. The agency maintains in the document that its proposal “attempts to balance the protection of natural resources with imposing a reasonable administrative and economic burden on the coal mining industry.”

The National Mining Association blasted the proposal, saying OSM is vastly underestimating the economic impact.

OSM's preferred alternative will destroy tens of thousands of coal-related jobs across the country from Appalachia to Alaska and Illinois to Texas with no demonstrated benefit to the environment,” the trade group said. “OSM's own analysis provides a very conservative estimate of jobs that will be eliminated, incomes that will be lost and state revenues that will be foregone at both surface and underground coal mining operations.”

OSM has submitted the proposal to several coal-producing states for feedback before it releases proposed regulations by the end of February.

The states aren’t happy with what they’ve seen.

They blasted the proposal as “nonsensical and difficult to follow” in a Nov. 26 letter to OSM Director Joe Pizarchik. The letter was signed by officials from Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

“Neither the environmental impact statement nor the administrative record that OSM has developed over 30-plus years of regulation … justify the sweeping changes that they’re proposing to make,” West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection official Thomas Clarke told AP on Wednesday.