Environmental advocacy group Wild Earth Guardians has petitioned the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) to issue regulations under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) prohibiting the production of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions during blasting at surface coal mine operations. Dust emissions from coal mines are already subject to some regulation under SMCRA, as well as under federal and state Clean Air Act standards designed to prevent “fugitive emissions” from crossing property boundaries. However, in their petition, Wild Earth Guardians allege that existing regulations do not adequately address NOxemissions from blasting at coal mines, primarily in the Powder River Basin area. Wild Earth Guardians alleges that this blasting creates orange and red clouds of NOx emissions that exceed federal health and environmental standards. 

The petition seeks to have OSM create regulatory performance standards under 30 CFR Section 816 that would require operators to conduct blasting in such a manner as to prevent NOx emissions, and require operators to monitor all blasting activity and report any instances of NOx emissions to regulatory authorities within 24 hours. Although the petition cites blasting in the Powder River Basin as the basis for the need for regulation, if OSM adopts the federal standards, it can be expected that all coal-mining states would eventually be required to adopt similar standards into their state coal mining regulatory programs. 

Wild Earth Guardians’ petition, sent to OSM on April 14, 2014, is the most recent effort in a long-running campaign by environmental interest groups to increase regulation of air emissions at coal mining operations. For example, in 2010 the group Earthjustice petitioned EPA to create new source performance standards under the Clean Air Act that would regulate air emissions from coal mines. EPA denied that petition on April 30, 2013, stating that it could not devote the resources required to address the petition at this time, and instead intended to focus on larger sources of air emissions. Environmentalists appealed EPA’s decision, but on May 14, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, stated that EPA’s decision to decline to further regulate coal mines was reasonable. Wild Earth Guardians’ most recent petitions cites EPA’s decision not to increase Clean Air Act regulation at coal mines as one of the reasons OSM should act to set its own standards. OSM has not yet responded to the petition.