Attorney General Knudsen challenges Biden administration takeover of coal mining regulations

Attorney General Knudsen challenges Biden administration takeover of coal mining regulations

HELENA – Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen joined a coalition of 14 attorneys general in filing a lawsuit against the Biden administration’s unlawful rule taking regulatory authority over surface coal mining away from the states and giving more authority to the federal government. The lawsuit is the 49th Attorney General Knudsen has filed against the Biden administration.

The Department of Interior’s rule, “Ten-Day Notices and Corrective Action for State Regulatory Program Issues,” reverses a Trump-era regulation that relaxed federal enforcement at coal mines and denies states, like Montana, with federally approved programs exclusive jurisdiction over most aspects of surface coal mining and reclamation granted to them in the Surface Mining and Control Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) by Congress.

While the SMCRA recognizes the states’ superior expertise and knowledge of local mining operations, the recently issued Final Rule allows the federal government to second-guess the decisions Congress entrusted to state regulators.

“Under the Act, decisions about permitting, bonding, and the like are for States—and States alone—to make. States also occupy the front-line role of inspecting mining sites and enforcing regulatory requirements,” the lawsuit states. “In the recently issued Final Rule, however, the Secretary proposes to overthrow the Act’s deference to States.”

The rule subjects decisions granted to the states, such as permitting decisions, to federal oversight through ten-day notices; discards requirements that citizens contact state regulators with concerns before contacting the federal government; imposes inflexible, arbitrary timelines on states to complete complex investigations without regard for facts on the ground, setting up federal regulators to swoop in; and illogically requires the secretary to blind herself to information in states’ possession in determining whether there is a reason to believe that violation exists, even if that information could establish beyond doubt that none exists.

Montana’s program was approved in 1980 and Montana assumed primacy for the regulation of coal mining and reclamation operations on non-Federal and non-Indian lands within its borders. After evaluating Montana’s program in 2023, the federal government confirmed Montana’s program had no regulatory problems and found Montana “takes citizen complaints seriously.” OSMRE found “Montana DEQ appropriately responded to complainants in a timely manner consistent with applicable rules.”

Attorneys general from West Virginia, Indiana, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming also joined the lawsuit.

Click here to read the petition for review.

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