After several years of revision, Alaska is closing in on the goal of bringing its surface coal mining regulations in line with federal rules governing the same activities.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources says changes are necessary to the Alaska Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act to make it consistent with corresponding federal regulations administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.
DNR proposes revisions and additions to Alaska regulations, which have been in place since 1983. The rules govern all activities related to surface coal mining, including the protection of water, topsoil, fish and wildlife as well as all aspects of surface coal mining activities.
“With very few exceptions, we are adopting the federal regulations verbatim,” said Joseph Joyner, a spokesman for DNR’s Division of Mining, Land and Water.
Joyner said the division had to “tweak” some of the language in the rules regarding some materials such as sand and gravel, and craft wording that reflected Alaska’s established appeals process. Interior’s Office of Surface Mining had no appeals process and Interior’s regulations call for creating one.
“Basically, these are the only two changes that differ from the federal regulations,” Joyner added.
Bruce Busby, a division geologist, said his office has been working on the proposed revisions since 2003 and have cleared all but one hurdle necessary before adopting the changes.
DNR sought public comment on the proposal this spring and recently extended the comment period to June 1 at the request of a coal industry trade group and Usibelli Coal Mine, according to division officials.
Busby said he does not expect any objections to the changes from industry because notice of the proposed amendments have appeared in the Federal Register twice and attracted no comments.
“Usibelli said they just wanted time to read through the proposed regulations,” he said.
Usibelli owns Alaska’s only operating coal mine. The company did not return a telephone call by press time.
Others in Alaska’s coal mining industry say they have not followed the proposed rule changes closely.
“I don’t know what the changes are. I haven’t read them, but I will know by June 1,” said Bob Stiles, whose company DRven Corp. is project development manager for PacRim Coal Resources. PacRim is pursuing the Chuitna Coal Project, a venture aimed at extracting up to 300 million metric tons of coal from the Beluga Field southwest of Anchorage.
Rob McLeod, vice president of Vancouver, B.C.-based Full Metal Minerals (USA) Inc., said the company will not be commenting in the proposed changes.
Full Metal recently leased 35 square miles of coal claims near Chickaloon.
“At a time when Alaska and America, as a whole, is taking a close look at coal and how they want to deal with their plentiful coal resources in both a negative and positive way, we’re certainly paying attention to what Alaskans want to do with coal, not only now but in the future,” McLeod said.