4:59pm

Tue November 29, 2011
All Politics are Local

Department of Interior Delays Plan to Merge Offices

The U.S. Department of the Interior is delaying an order to merge certain parts of the office that regulates surface mining with another department. Last month, the Department of the Interior announced a proposal to merge parts of the Office of Surface Mining with the Bureau of Land Management. But concerns have been raised about both the idea itself and the way the department went about the plan.

Now, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says he’ll delay the plan until mid-February, so he can get more input from Congress, state governments and the public.

Salazar says the merger is designed to streamline his department’s operations.

“What we’re doing is we’re taking a deeper dive to see how we can bring the functions together to do a better job at both OSM and BLM,” he said. “It may mean we may have some of the activities that BLM currently does on mine reclamation land, for example, move over to OSM. But those are issues that we’ll continue to study and we’ll come up with the configuration within a few months.”

The proposal—which would move certain OSM administrative functions to the BLM—has been heavily criticized. Some members of Congress argue that Salazar doesn’t have the authority under federal surface mining law to change the duties of OSM. But Salazar disagrees.

“We will stay within the confines of the law,” he said. “And under SMCRA we have to have an independent agency to do surface mining, so that independence will be there. But that law doesn’t prohibit me from finding efficiencies and ways of reconfiguring my different agencies within the Department of the Interior.”

Salazar made the comments during a visit to the National RV Trade Show in Louisville.