The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) announced that it is considering issuing regulations under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) that would prohibit the production of visible nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions during blasting at surface coal mining operations. 

OSM is considering this rulemaking in response to a petition filed with the agency by Wild Earth Guardians on April 14, 2014. In their petition, Wild Earth Guardians allege that existing regulations do not adequately address NOx emissions 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. OSM published notice in the Federal Register on July 25, 2014, soliciting comment on the petition. If OSM decides to accept the petition, it would institute formal rulemaking procedures. 

The petition seeks to have OSM create regulatory performance standards under 30 CFR Part 816 that would require operators to conduct blasting in such a manner as to prevent visible NOx emissions, and require operators to visually monitor all blasting activity and report any instances of visible NOxemissions 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. 

Visible 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, Wild Earth Guardians asserts that the emission of NOxfrom these Powder River Basin operations is not adequately addressed by existing regulations.