Members of the House Utility and Environmental Regulation Committee looked into the permitting process for non-coal mining in Oklahoma after attempting legislation last session to change and balance the process.
Lawmakers heard from the Department of Mines on the current application and appeals process before hearing from citizens, who express their concerns with the department’s informal conference process.
In May of last year, it looked like impoverished areas of eastern Oklahoma would be getting a lifeline. Coal mining, once a vital industry there, was on a comeback thanks to increasing international demand. The prospect of hundreds of new jobs had people in the area excited when StateImpact first visited Heavener, but things have changed since then.
The Oklahoma Department of Mines has been chosen to receive a nearly $108,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor's Mining Safety and Health Administration.
The $107,800 grant was announced Thursday.
The money is to be used to provide federally required training to miners. The grants cover training and retraining of miners working at surface and underground coal and metal and nonmetal mines, including miners engaged in shell dredging or employed at surface stone, sand and gravel mining operations.
A Native American tribe in Oklahoma is poised to become the first tribe in the country to lead and manage the cleanup of a federal hazardous waste site.
The Quapaw Tribe is cleaning up a site where a Catholic church and boarding school that tribal members attended once stood. The land was later leased to various companies and mined for lead and zinc. When mining stopped, large piles of leftover mining waste were left behind. This caused health problems for residents.
This isn’t the first legislative session some Oklahoma lawmakers are pushing for a severance tax for mining limestone and sand, but it’s the first time the idea has gotten this far.
On Monday, the House Appropriations and Budget Committee passed HB1876, which would allow up to a five percent tax on the production of limestone, sand, and other aggregates. It now moves to the full House for consideration.
Last week, StateImpact reported on what the passage of State Question 640 in 1992 did to tax policy in Oklahoma.
“You need to have a supermajority in the House and the Senate and the governor has to sign it,” Alexander Holmes, a Regent’s Professor of Economics at the University of Oklahoma, said. “I’m still betting that if you reduce the taxes, you can never make them go up again.”
Coal mining can cause a lot of damage to the landscape, and the federal government has rules about how mining companies are supposed to treat the land after they’re done with it.
Basically, they’re supposed to return it to approximately what it was like before.
The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is charged with making sure the Oklahoma Department of Mines is enforcing that rule. If the Oklahoma mining regulator doesn’t, the feds can step in and take over that role.