Trump’s Mine Cleanup Pick Withdraws Over Frustration With Delays

By Stephen Lee

J. Steven Gardner, the Trump administration’s pick to head the Interior Department office that regulates coal mining reclamation, has taken his name out of the running for the job.

Gardner, a mining consultant at ECSI LLC in Lexington, Ky., told Bloomberg Environment on Sept. 6 he is withdrawing from the top job at the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement because the vetting process has been dragging on for nearly a year with no end in sight.

“This decision was very difficult for me and comes after almost a year of back and forth with the Office of Government Ethics over the conditions for an ethics agreement,” Gardner said in an email.

“Now, I have reached the point that the uncertainty of when confirmation would actually take place, numerous reversals by OGE of conditions, unknown financial implications, and unknown final conditions have led me to make the decision to withdraw.”

Gardner’s candidacy for the job never reached the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, which would have voted on his confirmation.

Gardner expressed sadness about ending his candidacy for the job.

“I have worked with OSM in many capacities for the 40 years it has been in existence,” he wrote. “I have many friends in OSM, state governments and knowledge of the program. That is why I am saddened by the necessity to make this decision. It is time to move on to refocus on my business and family and recoup some of the opportunities lost from the last year of uncertainty.”

Agency Lacks a Champion

In the absence of a chief, the agency lacks a champion to stand up for its budget, ensure that hundreds of agency and state employees are trained in reclamation enforcement, or make any broad policy decisions, Joe Pizarchik, the most recent head of the agency, told Bloomberg Environment in June.

Gardner in June told Bloomberg Environment that, at one time, the administration had raised concerns both about his role as a consultant and his wife’s possible involvement with the mining industry.

“The conflict issue was raised from the start, but there was a plan in place to address that,” Gardner said at the time. “My wife works for Kentucky state government, but not in any role involved with [OSMRE], so that was really not an issue.”

The Trump administration had, at one time, voiced strong support for Gardner. When he was nominated in October 2017, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he would be an “unbelievable asset to coal country and the entire team at the Department of the Interior.”

For now, OSMRE is led on an interim basis by longtime agency official Glenda Owens.