The nomination of a new regulator of surface mines in the United States is receiving praise from pro-coal groups in Montana but criticism from environmental groups in the state.
President Trump nominated Steve Gardner Thursday for the position of Director of the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement.
Gardner is a longtime coal industry advocate. He served on the University of Kentucky's Mining Engineering Foundation and the Kentucky Geological Survey. He is currently the president and chief executive officer of a consulting and engineering firm in Lexington, Kentucky.
Environmentalists were quick to criticize Gardner's lack of experience as a government regulator and his defense of mountaintop removal mining.
Anne Hedges, the Deputy Director of The Montana Environmental Information Center says that she's concerned about what this nomination could mean for water quality in Montana and in the west.
"Anytime that you have somebody who has repeatedly chosen the coal industry over protections for water quality raises red flags for us," Hedges says "We just can’t afford to have coal mining impair any more streams in the state."
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell all praised the nomination in a press release that accompanied the announcement. Zinke noted Gardner’s experience in the mining industry and called him an, "unbelievable asset to coal country."
Shelby DeMars, a spokesperson for Count on Coal Montana says Gardner’s background in mining would help him in the role if appointed.
"I think it’ll be beneficial to have someone with that depth of experience, that understanding of the complex nature of the industry heading up that agency."
The mining agency Gardner is nominated to lead is responsible for establishing the program to reclaim surface coal mining operations by restoring the natural environment. It was created by the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.