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OSMRE nominee expects to reduce mining permit timeline to less than 2 years

U.S. President Donald Trump's pick to serve as director the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, or OSMRE, said the agency that oversees federal coal regulations and safety procedures is working to reduce the mining permit timeline to less than two years.

Speaking before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Dec. 17, Lanny Erdos, who recently served as chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Mineral Resources Management, discussed his background and qualifications to lead the agency. Erdos, who touted his blue-collar roots and his father's time working in coal mines, said 31 years of experience in the field have given him "working knowledge and specific experience in almost every aspect of OSMRE's mission." He started his career as an environmental technician, collecting field data and reviewing mine maps for accuracy, before eventually advancing through the department.

The OSMRE and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management have started working together on environmental analyses required under the National Environmental Policy Act in an effort to cut down on the permitting timeline for mining projects, he said. The two federal agencies previously conducted environmental analyses separately, making the process more time consuming.

"It was separate and certainly duplicative, taking far too long, so what we're doing today is we're working together," Erdos said. "My expectations are that we're going to reduce the time frame associated with permitting from six to 10 years to two or less. So, we're certainly headed in the right direction."

Speaking about state bonding requirements, Erdos said he is not planning to change anything that is working, if they are confirmed.

"Any change would have to work for all the states, certainly including Alaska," he told U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who chairs the committee.

With regard to the Abandoned Mine Land fund that he would oversee as director, Erdos said he spent more than 20 years working with the Abandoned Mine Land fund during his tenure in Ohio, completing $46 million worth of projects.

Critics of the fund have claimed the money is mismanaged and not spent as intended. Erdos said administrative costs for the program total between 7% and 8%, "which is a very good number when you start talking about administrative costs associated with a $10 billion program."

While a few of the senators in attendance, including Murkowski and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Erdos was a strong candidate for the position, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., called on Erdos to commit to complying with court rulings that determined the agency is required to analyze the effects of climate change on its permitting decisions.

Erdos failed to answer directly, simply saying that his agency is required to ensure that requirements under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 are met.

"What I am committing to you is we will continue to do that using the best available science," the nominee said.

Murkowski said she hopes that Congress will quickly advance Erdos' confirmation, noting that his name is not likely to reach the Senate floor until early 2020 after the holidays.