President Donald Trump’s choice to head a federal coal mine regulator, like more than one of his nominees, is a vocal critic of the very agency he’s being asked to lead. Steven Gardner is a longtime coal industry consultant, and he has called the agency’s marquee Obama-era regulation the product of “one of the most disingenuous and dishonest efforts put forward by a government agency.”
But in Gardner’s case, there is an unusual — and contentious — twist: He runs an engineering firm that produced a report as part of the process of preparing that regulation, and the agency deemed it so shoddy that it cut ties with Gardner’s company. Now he’s the nominee to head that agency, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. (In broad terms, OSMRE — pronounced “oz-muhr” — focuses on mining’s effect on the environment, while the other key regulator, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, focuses on the welfare of miners.)
State and federal officials at the time harshly criticized a draft report produced jointly by Gardner’s firm, ESCI, and other contractors. They blasted it as “nonsensical,” “junk,” “inaccurate and incomplete,” and “a piece of crap.” Some OSMRE staff members went so far as to accuse Gardner of trying to sabotage the regulation his firm was hired to help develop.