Looking for increased efficiency, the U.S. Department of the Interior said the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will take over several administrative functions from the Office of Surface Mining (OSM). The agency’s oversight and reclamation activities will remain independent, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.
The consolidation was originally proposed to go into effect Dec. 1, 2011, however, the original plan was opposed by the coal industry, environmental and citizens groups and lawmakers who cited a potential slowdown in the permitting process and reduced oversight of mining. There were also concerns about whether it was legal under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMRCA), Platts reported.
The implementation date was delayed in order for the deputy secretary, assistant secretary for land and minerals, and the directors of OSM and BLM to provide Salazar with recommendations by Feb. 15.
“After extensive consultation with employees and stakeholders and a comprehensive review by our senior leadership, it is clear that there are significant efficiencies to be gained by consolidating duplicative administrative functions in these bureaus,” Salazar said in a statement.
The consolidation announcement stemmed from the recommendations outlined in a Department of the Interior report, which also took into account stakeholder input from comments submitted as well as those provided during a series of public meetings.
National Mining Association spokeswoman Carol Raulston said the organization expressed its concerns about the original proposal and was still reviewing the most recent plan, but it “appears to be a more modest approach.”
As part of the plan, BLM would take over national vehicle fleet and property management, equal employment opportunity compliance, ethics training and compliance, safety and occupational health functions, non-technical employee training and space allocation management.
SMCRA requires coal mining regulation be administered by an independent agency, but it allows for other bureaus, on a reimbursable basis, to administer some provisions of the act, according to Interior. The plan calls for reimbursable agreements for department-level services to be considered for human relations operations, acquisition and procurement, information technology and space co-location.
OSM’s ministerial fee collection, distribution and audit functions will be transferred to Interior’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR). The ONRR collects and distributes revenues from energy production on federal and tribal lands as well as the Outer Continental Shelf.
OSM will retain its communications, budget and emergency management offices and operations functions.
It will also keep its responsibility for the Abandoned Mine Lands program, including fee policy, development of the annual audit plans, enforcement actions, grant making and post-distribution verification. The agency will also serve as the primary provider of AML physical hazards remediation design and project management, according to the report.
“Implementing these actions will free up savings and management time that can be used to strengthen OSM's capacity to oversee surface coal mining operations, while maintaining the agency’s independence,” Salazar said.