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Controversial nomination advances out of committee

Posted Oct. 16, 2009 / Posted by: RConnors

On Thursday, October 8, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the nomination of controversial nominee Joseph Pizarchik to be the head of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement by a voice vote. Senator's Bernard Sanders (I-VT) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) were not at the vote, but they both submitted requests that they be recorded as no votes on the nominee. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) also submitted a statement voicing his concern with the nomination. 

The Controversy

Mr. Pizarchik's nomination has been controversial since Obama submitted it in July. The Office of Surface Mining Enforcement and Reclamation is in charge of enforcing the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). This ground-breaking law, which Friends of the Earth supported and helped implement, is the primary law used to regulate coal mining and protect the lands and waters that had been adversely affected by coal mining.  Mr. Pizarchik is the head of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Mining and Reclamation, which is currently being sued for failure to comply with this law.  

Mountaintop removal miningIn Pennsylvania, Mr. Pizarchik has been instrumental in creating one of the nation’s largest waste dumping programs, despite evidence that disposing of coal combustion waste in surface mines contaminates surrounding drinking water. Administrative law judges found that the permits issued by Mr. Pizarchik were missing the monitoring and safeguards necessary to protect water supplies from coal ash.

Under Mr. Pizarchik’s leadership the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has also approved permits that continue the process of long-wall mining, while weakening or eliminating regulations that would protect homes and streams from being destroyed by destructive mining operations. This form of mining, like mountaintop removal, removes tremendous amounts of materials out of coal-bearing mountains, typically disposing the waste in stream beds. The disposal of mining waste in stream valleys is destroying streams throughout Appalachia.

SMCRA has the potential to be an important tool in protecting people and the environment from the dangers of coal mining. However, over the past two decades, enforcement of SMCRA and related Clean Water Act regulations has been lax. This has led to the rise and accelerated practice of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

We cannot have a director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement who has supported these types of practices.  A true reform candidate is needed for the Office of Surface Mining Enforcement and Reclamation, not a candidate with a track record of failure to comply with the same law that he should be enforcing.

See Friends of the Earth's Statement on the vote.

See Friends of the Earth's letter to Chariman Bingaman opposing the nomination.

Urge senators to oppose the nomination.

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