The Interior Department reorganized the Office of Surface Mining yesterday to eliminate its five regional offices and nearly 400 jobs, a shift critics say will cripple the agency's ability to enforce the law.
Interior Secretary James G. Watt said the changes "reflect OSM's changing mission and our determination to develop a working partnership with the states." He has pledged to eliminate "excessive and burdensome regulations" and to transfer enforcement of all other rules to the states.
Under the plan, regional offices will be replaced by 14 state offices and two "technical services centers" that will help states draw up their own plans to implement the Surface Mining Act of 1977.
Edward Grandis of the Environmental Policy Center said the plan "changes the function of OSM from being a regulatory authority to being a supplier of technical information."
The reduction in personnel from 1,001 to 628 includes 170 inspection and enforcement workers, a cut of 57 percent in the enforcement staff. Watt has argued that state takeover will reduce the federal role, but Grandis said OSM will not even be able to double-check state programs as the law requires. The plan will also concentrate in Washington policy making formerly done on a regional level, Grandis said.
A reorganization outline circulating at the Interior Department supported that thesis, noting that the plan "requires a stronger headquarters staff" for administrative, policy, grants, contracting and budget work.
Watt said the changes would save $2 million in yearly administrative costs, although the reorganization outline said it would cost that much to implement the transfers.