Proposed Merger Means Loss of Independence for Regulatory Agency

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today expressed concern and frustration over Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s order to “consolidate” the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

“I’m not convinced the decision to merge OSM into BLM is legally valid or good public policy,” Murkowski said at Thursday’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the issue. “The committees of jurisdiction were not consulted and the Interior’s surprise rollout has created confusion and uncertainty. While we should always look for ways to make our agencies more efficient and less costly, not every idea deserves implementation.”

Salazar has released few details of the merger since he signed the order last month, and despite the order saying that he will consult Congress has provided no indication of how that will happen.

“From the outside, it looks like the merger decision was made before much thought was given to whether those agencies could be merged, whether they should be merged and how such a merger would be accomplished,” Murkowski said. “It seems to make the most sense for this committee and the Department of Interior to ensure that existing agencies are operating properly before we consider combining them.”

Murkowski said the merger would require congressional action to amend the separate acts establishing BLM and OSM. The Office of Surface Mining was created as a distinct entity reporting directly to the Interior Secretary to protect its independence as a regulatory body. The proposed merger of leasing and regulatory agencies also appears to contradict the administration’s rationale for splitting up the former Minerals Management Service (MMS). 

“OSM was specifically established as a separate entity to protect its independence as a regulatory body,” Murkowski said. “That independence needs to be protected.”