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Claims about mining rules meet skepticism in Wyo.

Associated Press Modified: January 27, 2011 at 7:12 pm •  Published: January 27, 2011
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Proposed regulations that would eliminate thousands of coal mining jobs in the East are being criticized in Wyoming even as the federal government predicts the rules would create hundreds of jobs out West.

Given how nearly half of the nation's electricity comes from coal, the regulations would harm the nation's energy supply, Gov. Matt Mead said.

He pledged to push back against "overly burdensome" regulations.

"As they say, first our neighbor and then us," Mead said.

The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is drafting the rules to protect streams from coal mining. The job projections are part of a draft rule document recently released to state agencies, though not the public.

All three members of Wyoming's congressional delegation slammed the regulations Thursday. An agency spokesman didn't immediately return phone messages, although an environmentalist said regulations can create jobs.

Wyoming is the top coal state, producing about 40 percent of the nation's supply. Wyoming's top coal-producing region, the Powder River Basin, is arid with relatively few year-round streams in the path of mining operations.

According to the surface mining reclamation office, the rules would cut coal production and an estimated 7,000 of the 80,600 coal mining jobs in the U.S. Meanwhile, coal production in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota would increase 15 percent and those states would add 1,500 jobs.

The job creation projections are simplistic and it's hard to say if they will come true, said John Corra, director of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.

"Wyoming could benefit from this. We just don't know," Corra said.

Corra was among environmental regulatory directors in eight states who in a November letter to the surface mining reclamation agency criticized an earlier version of the rules as "nonsensical" and hard to follow in places.

Wyoming's lone representative in the U.S. House, recently named to the House Appropriations Committee, said she would use her new position to slash funding for the federal agency because of the proposed rules.

"We are kidding ourselves if we think they will limit their regulatory overreach to Appalachia," said Rep. Cynthia Lummis, a Republican.

Wyoming's two Republican senators, Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, pointed out that President Barack Obama in this week's State of the Union speech promised to cut unnecessary government regulation.

"Only in Washington can people get away with such double talk. I will continue to strongly stand up for coal miners and their jobs," Barrasso said.

An environmentalist who follows Wyoming's coal industry said it's simplistic to say regulation always is bad for jobs and the economy.

Regulations create work not only for regulators, but for engineers and others who design and build ways to make operations more environmentally friendly, said Jeremy Nichols, with WildEarth Guardians, a group suing the federal government over the way it regulates Wyoming coal.

"Whenever you're talking about environmental regulation, I think it's important to remember that does create jobs," Nichols said. "You start talking about environmental monitoring and compliance, somebody's got to do that work."