A coal proponent attacked a federal regulator as being run by radical environmentalists. Now he's a senior official at that agency.

Christian Palich FB Image

Citation Ceci Freed / Media Matters

In a familiar “fox guarding the henhouse” move, the Trump administration has dispatched former coal association president and conservative commentator Christian Palich to a federal coal mine regulator he previously claimed was “unaccountable” and filled with “unelected” and “radical environmentalist bureaucrats.”

Palich, the former president of the Ohio Coal Association, has described himself as a “leading, national voice” on energy issues. He has appeared in the media to praise President Donald Trump for rolling back environmental regulations and has also tweeted anti-environmental propaganda, including that climate change is “junk science” and the Sierra Club wants to “kill jobs & destroy families for a phony cause.” From 2017 to early 2019, he worked as an official at the Environmental Protection Agency. 

On July 30, Media Matters first reported that Palich had recently begun working as a senior adviser for the Department of the Interior. E&E News subsequently reported that Palich is specifically working at the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE or OSM), which is under Interior’s jurisdiction. 

OSMRE’s stated mission is to clean up “millions of acres of pre- Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) abandoned mine lands and the return of post-SMCRA mined lands to productive and beneficial use.” Palich has participated in weekly meetings with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and other senior Interior Department officials since June, according to publicly released secretarial calendars. 

In addition to his record of climate denialism, Palich has previously fought directly against the agency where he’s now working. 

Palich frequently attacked OSMRE during the debate and drafting of the Stream Protection Rule, which the agency worked on for much of the Obama administration. The administration finalized the rule in late 2016, which was intended “to prevent or minimize impacts to surface water and groundwater from coal mining.” Congress and the Trump administration then reversed the regulation, giving coal companies “a freer hand in dumping mining debris in streams.” 

In 2015, Palich complained that it’s “unfortunate the unelected bureaucrats at OSM have ignored the concerns of state regulators and Congress in order to promote a continued radical anti-coal agenda."

In a January 2016 interview, he said that all Ohio miners “are at risk because of what the Office of Surface Mining is doing” and claimed that the rule was being pushed “against the will of the people.” 

In a February 2016 tweet, he shared a FoxNews.com op-ed by right-wing commentators John Yoo and Dean Reuter and commented: “All great points & being in the #coal industry we see everyday just how unaccountable @EPA, @OSMRE, & @Interior are.” 

Palich wrote a July 21, 2016, Columbus Dispatch op-ed claiming that the Stream Protection Rule “is a rule in search of a purpose - one that is more about politics than environmental protection - and from a federal agency that has clearly lost its way.” 

He also claimed that OSMRE wrote the stream rule to create more jobs for itself. In the Dispatch op-ed, he wrote that it “will do more to pad a bureaucratic agency’s budget than protect streams.” And after the rule was revoked in February 2017, Palich tweeted that it “would have made 64% of coal reserves uneconomic & destroyed 280,000 jobs in mining sector. Only creating more bureaucrat oversight jobs.” 

He added in February 2017 that the rule was “devised by radical environmentalist bureaucrats” and “was never about the environment and was always about carrying out the Obama Administration's nonsensical war on coal." 

In 2017, the administration nominated coal consultant and climate denier Steven Gardner to head OSMRE, prompting criticism from environmental groups. Like Palich, Gardner has also been a vocal critic of OSMRE. He withdrew his nomination in September 2018, citing a long “back and forth with the Office of Government Ethics over the conditions for an ethics agreement.” 

The Interior Department also recently appointed William Perry Pendley as the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management. As a right-wing commentator, Pendley attacked his current agency and has argued that the federal government should sell its public lands.