Citizen Groups Object to Obama’s Mining Pick

September 14, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is expected to approve the nomination of Joseph Pizarchik to head the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement on Tuesday, but coal-field activist groups from his home state of Pennsylvania are rallying against him in hopes of preventing his confirmation.

Pizarchik is currently the director of the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Citizen groups organizing against some of the destructive practices of the coal industry in the state have protested his appointment, arguing that he has a record of endorsing mining and coal-waste disposal policies that are environmentally hazardous.

The Mountain Watershed Association sent a letter in June questioning his selection for the post. “We do not believe this is a good choice as several environmentally dangerous policies have been expanded under his watch,” the group wrote. “One of these is the practice of burying power plant waste in unlined pits, sometimes in old mines, creating contamination in groundwater.”

Over the weekend, anther citizen group based in the state announced that they are filing suit against the against the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) for failure to enforce the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in its oversight of Pennsylvania’s mining office. They accuse the OSMRE of “chronic and deliberate violations” of SMCRA for ignoring their policies on the disposal of millions of tons of coal ash.

The problems with coal ash disposal hit the national radar last December, as an earthen dike owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant broke, unleashing 1.1 billion gallons of coal slurry into the surrounding area of Tennessee. Citizens Coal Council board member Michael Nixon argued in a statement that the violation of SMCRA is among many reasons the Senate should question Pizarchik’s nomination:

This is just one of the many reasons that President Obama’s nomination of PA DEP’s Joe Pizarchik to be OSMRE Director is unacceptable to so many people, in Pennsylvania and nationwide. It’s not too late to find the right person for the job, because that person certainly isn’t Joe Pizarchik, the ringleader of DEP’s chronic servitude to industry’s coal ash disposal and mine dumping schemes.