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Mr. CHRISTENSEN. We are working on a regulation that deal with these issues. It should be coming out shortly. It has to do with the valid existing right issue which is bigger than historians say it is. It is an issue that the whole Department is working on. The Sec retary himself is very involved in determining how we determine what VER is.
Mr. YATES. Would this regulation affect how close you can get to the structures?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Part of the regulation would. Another regulation would deal with that aspect more specifically.
CIVIL PENALTY COLLECTION Mr. YATES. What amount of money remains outstanding in the collection of civil penalties?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. At this point $61 million, which we hope to re classify by the end of the fiscal year.
Mr. YATES. And what portion of that funding is uncollectible?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. It's old, old debt. It dates back 8 to 10 years. People of record are long-gone. We can't find them. They're bankrupt. They've changed names.
Mr. YATES. How are you trying to collect it?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. We've tried to collect it in several different ways. We have tried to collect it through our own office, our attorney's office, and through private debt collectors through the GSA. That effort, by the way, Mr. Chairman, has not yielded a lot of money, but it has helped us close out many of the cases.
Mr. YATES. Well, now there is $150 million of so-called uncollected funds. Now, you've unclassified about 60 percent of it, $80 million.
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Right. Mr. Yates. Why did you unclassify it? Because it's just uncollectible?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. That's right. It's simply uncollectible. It's just not there. The people aren't there.
Mr. YATES. You're tried collection agencies.
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Yes. We are doing that. We're involving our solicitor's office. We are doing net worth determinations on these companies to find out if there is any net worth to follow up on in order to get the money.
I think an important thing to note about all of this reclassifying the debt that we haven't been able to collect is that the information on the debtors is going into the applicant violator system. So, if they ever do try to mine again, we have got them on the spot.
USE OF AML INVENTORY IN FUNDING ALLOCATION
Mr. YATES. Mr. Regula?
Mr. REGULA. Mr. Christensen, you have started to use the inventory system to determine the allocation to the States. Is that correct?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. For abandoned mine land reclamation grants? Mr. REGULA. Yes.
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Distribution of the monies, yes.
Mr. REGULA. Are you satisfied that this is fair and that it's a workable system, or are you concerned that there's a danger that there might be padding?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. I'm not concerned about that. As you know, we have worked on updating the inventory for close to four years. We have opened it up a couple times to States and said "Take the opportunity, follow the guidelines and update your inventory.” We have decided that is enough. Let's quit updating the inventory and let's use it. So, now we are using it to allocate funds.
Mr. REGULA. But I don't think your guidelines are uniform. And the consequence of that is that you get an inequitable distribution to the States depending on how clever they are at maximizing their inventory.
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. There are two things we are doing to determine if that is indeed a problem. One, as you know, is that the GAO is actively looking at the paper trail. We have also put together a group of our own people, technical folks, to go out and look on the ground with State personnel to determine if, indeed, what you refer to is a problem.
UNIFORM CRITERIA IN INVENTORY UPDATE
Mr. REGULA. You feel that you are moving very rapidly in the direction of having the same criteria applied to each State for purposes of determining the inventory?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Yes.
Mr. REGULA. Do you think there would have been any inequities based on the prior practices that would distort the allocation of funds as a result?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Well, that's what we are trying to find out from these studies. Hopefully the GAO study and our study will be able to resolve that problem, if there is indeed a problem.
There is one more piece of information that I think may be of interest to this Committee. As you and Chairman Yates know, we have dealt with allocation of the Secretary's share of AML money for years and years. There have been numerous proposals. We finally settled on a formula that we are now using.
The State Abandoned Mine Land Association visited with me last week. I think some of them came here and testified as outside witnesses. They said to me that they would like to meet to see if they could determine a proposal on how to allocate that money themselves.
Mr. REGULA. All the States subject to AML?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. That's right. I told them that would be fantastic. If they can come to an agreement, there is no reason why we wouldn't agree as well. That would take care of the problem and satisfy the Congress.
Hopefully they will be able to do that. They are meeting on the 28th of this month.
Mr. REGULA. If an equitable formula is determined, will you use it retroactively? Mr. CHRISTENSEN. No, it would be from this point on. Mr. REGULA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. YATES. We have to vote. We'll be back. [Recess.)
REORGANIZATION WITHIN OSMRE
Mr. YATES. What happens when you leave? Is there going to be a reorganization now?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. As far as I'm concerned, there won't be. I have nothing on my desk that would suggest that there is going to be any kind of a major reorganization.
Mr. YATES. There is or is not?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. I don't have anything on my desk that would indicate that.
Mr. YATES. Not on your desk.
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. That's hard to say. It is my impression, that there are no major changes desired. There may be some managerial changes needed over the next few months, but that's certainly up to the next Director.
Mr. YATES. Well now, what does this do to the morale of the staff? Anything? Are they going to be brokenhearted when you go?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. I haven't heard that, but I'm sure they will be. [Laughter.]
Mr. YATES. And are they going to be brokenhearted about the reductions in the budget?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. I think that they are professionals and they have seen the budgets go up and come down. They know how to deal with it.
Mr. YATES. How does this affect their morale? As professionals they aren't affected?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Frankly, from a budgetary standpoint, I think they're okay and will be able to continue doing their job. Some things are going to be tighter, but they'll be able to do their jobs.
Mr. YATES. You don't know of any reorganization. Does your deputy know of any reorganization?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. I don't know that he is involved in any reorganization. At this point there is nothing in writing that would suggest there's going to be a major reorganization.
Mr. YATES. How about Mr. Gentile's position? Does anybody know what he proposes to do?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Well, I haven't discussed it with him. He'll be on board Monday and at that point he can decide how he wants to deal with any changes, if he proposes any.
Mr. YATES. You don't know that he's proposing any?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. I haven't discussed it with him. It's up to him to decide.
Mr. Yates. Does anybody know what he proposes?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Well, he'll be on board Monday, and by then he should have some
Mr. YATES. I know he's going to be on board, but did he talk to anybody about what he wants to do?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Well, I think that he has had discussions with folks about managerial kinds of things he would like to see done, but nothing
Mr. YATES. What folks did he have discussions with?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Nothing has been put in writing to say "We will be doing this on Monday."
Mr. YATES. All right. We'll wait until Mr. Gentile comes in. We should have waited till Monday, shouldn't we?
LITIGATION ON HISTORIC PRESERVATION
What's the status of the litigation brought by the Society of American Archeologists against OSM?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. They are getting ready to go to a hearing on that particular rulemaking which we put out about a year ago. It is a rulemaking-
Mr. YATES. A hearing? Do you mean a trial?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Yes. This is a rulemaking that we have talked about to Congressman Seiberling when he was here. He was very pleased with our direction on that particular rulemaking. Unfortunately, when we promulgated it, it was challenged in court, which came as a very big surprise to us. So, we'll have to let the courts decide on the outcome.
Mr. YATES. I should have asked you. Are you going voluntarily to California?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Yes, sir.
Mr. YATES. What about the OSM's requirements under the National Historic Preservation Act? How do you handle that?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Mr. Chairman, we believed that the States already had the authority to do what they were required to do, regarding historic preservation and cultural resources. But there were several States that were reluctant to require regulators to meet these requirements. So, we promulgated a rule telling the States that, indeed, they did have the authority to require certain surveys, and they also had to consult with the State Historic Preservation Officer to solicit recommendations, and then document their decision regarding their action on those recommendations.
OSMRE TEN YEAR REPORT
Mr. Yates. You have a very pretty report here, 10 Years of Progress. Was that done on your watch?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Yes, indeed, it was. Mr. YATES. And it glorifies the things you've done. Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Actually the purpose of this report was not glorification, but to put lay terms, what the law required and then give some examples of how industry is working with the law. What we have presented are pictures and narrative of how they are implementing the law. And we find that it is working.
Mr. YATES. Well, it's a very handsome picture of what you've done at Colstrip, Montana, with the grass in place and a nice level field, cattle grazing.
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. The idea of the brochure, Mr. Chairman, was simply to indicate what the law requires and then show that it can happen. I think those pictures very dramatically show that, indeed, the law can work.
Mr. YATES. When one reads this report that deals with the accomplishments of the environmental protection regulatory program during the first 10 years of the law and another for abandoned mine land reclamation, 10 Years of Progress, that describes the extensive accomplishments of the AML reclamation program, one gets the impression that you don't have any problems left with the program. Is that your impression?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. No, sir.
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. I think we need to be realistic that, indeed, not everything is 100 percent perfect. The idea behind these two publications was to show 10 years of positive SMCRA application. .
Mr. YATES. Where do you tell us about the problems?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Neither one of these publications discusses them at great length, but in the print I think it does caveat that there are problems that will need to be addressed over the next 10 years.
Mr. YATES. Well, it says, “Dangerous high walls were left exposed. Trees were buried by waste material. Topsoil was buried. Landslides formed on top of unstable hillsides. Acid mine drainage.” Do any of those still remain? Mr. CHRISTENSEN. Yes, some of that still remains, Mr. Chairman. Mr. YATES. Only some of it? Is it minor?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. I think when we refer to what had been abandoned prior to the Act, there is a lot of that still. Post-act violations are minuscule compared to what previously happened.
Mr. YATES. So, the Act accomplished something, didn't it?
REDUCTION FOR AML RECLAMATION GRANTS
The budget for the abandoned mine reclamation fund provides for a reduction of $30 million. Right? Why this reduction?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. There are two reasons Mr. Chairman. One is simply balancing the budget, and the other is the ability of the States to spend the money. We have gone to great efforts in the last several years to encourage the States to get their construction grant funds obligated so that we and the Congress would be more willing to increase funding levels in this particular appropriation. The States are still struggling with that.
The proposed reduction doesn't mean that we don't think that it's a good program. It is an excellent program. It's just a matter of encouraging States to get to a point where they can obligate funds.
Mr. YATES. Well, what percentage of unobligated balances does OSM feel would be acceptable?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN. If a State was spending upwards of 90 percent of their AML funds, that would be excellent.
Mr. YATES. How many States do that?