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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

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.

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