The Senate today confirmed controversial nominee Joseph Pizarchik to be director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, the federal agency charged with protecting communities and natural systems from the impacts of coal mining. The Center for Biological Diversity and numerous organizations and communities affected by coal mining had opposed the nomination.
“Today, the Senate put the fox in charge of guarding the henhouse when it comes to destructive mining,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist at the Center. “As director of the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation in Pennsylvania, Mr. Pizarchik consistently made decisions that benefited industry at the expense of the environment and communities living in mining areas. And now, thanks to the Obama administration and the Senate, he can bring those same disastrous policies to mining practices across the country.”
Mr. Pizarchik’s environmental record includes advocating for unsafe disposal of toxic coal ash, disregarding the scientific evidence concerning coal-ash pollution, weakening stream buffer-zone rules, promoting valley fills, and downplaying the devastation caused by long-wall mining. Moreover, his agency has failed to meet legal requirements to prevent water pollution and has attempted to block citizens from obtaining information under public record laws.
In 2001, Mr. Pizarchik supervised the drafting of regulations that weakened stream buffer-zone rules to allow the filling of stream valleys in Pennsylvania. In spite of science demonstrating the hazards of improper coal-ash disposal, Mr. Pizarchik’s agency has allowed waste to be buried in unlined pits and old mines without regulatory safeguards. His coal-ash mine-fill program was found deficient by the Interior Board of Land Appeals.
And during confirmation hearings, Mr. Pizarchik dodged questions about mountaintop removal, claiming he needed to “learn more about the facts and details … what has transpired in the past.”
“At a time when we need to be rapidly and boldly moving away from our reliance on coal and fossil fuels to curb global warming, it is extremely alarming that the Senate would confirm such a controversial nominee with a record of consistently downplaying the devastating effects of coal mining and coal ash on the environment,” said Curry.