Salazar considering Interior shakeup, sources say

Posted: Oct 26, 2011

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Coal mining

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is giving serious consideration to folding the Office of Surface Mining into the Bureau of Land Management, sources said today.

Rumors of an imminent announcement about the reorganization circulated among mining industry leaders and on Capitol Hill all day, and officials are reportedly vetting a draft order to accomplish the change. Interior Department spokesman Adam Fetcher is not commenting on the reports.

One source familiar with the deliberations cited cost savings and efficiency as reasons for the possible change, saying combining operations could cut down on administrative functions. Early critics of such a move say OSM and BLM have distinct functions.

OSM has been under fire from industry and many lawmakers on Capitol Hill for efforts to craft a new rule to protect waterways from coal mining. Director Joe Pizarchik is scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill about the plans next week.

The two agencies have separate mandates and serve regionally diverse constituencies. BLM is in charge of managing some 250 million acres of mostly Western lands, while OSM is a strictly regulatory agency that oversees reclamation of coal mines, many of them on non-federal lands in the East.

Some sources questioned whether the Interior secretary has the legislative authority to merge two agencies that were created by acts of Congress. OSM, which has some 500 employees, was created in 1977 with passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

"One question is, 'How can this be legal?'" said one former Interior official who served during the Clinton administration. "The two agencies really don't have much overlap."

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