By Ryan Van Velzer
September 6, 2018 - The mining engineer from Lexington, Kentucky, President Donald Trump nominated to lead the federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement has withdrawn his nomination over issues with the vetting process.
Trump tapped Steven Gardner, CEO of Lexington consulting firm ECSI LLC, to lead the office last October. Gardner has more than four decades of experience working with and advocating for the mining industry.
But Gardner is withdrawing his nomination after a year of negotiations with the Office of Government Ethics over conditions of an ethical agreement, he told Bloomberg’s Stephen Lee on Thursday.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul were among those who praised Gardner’s nomination, but the environmental group The Sierra Club said Trump should never have nominated Gardner in the first place.
In a news release, Sierra Club Appalachian Organizing Manager Bill Price called Gardner a “lifelong servant of the coal industry” that puts profits ahead of the environment as well as the health and safety of coal workers.
“The agency’s next nominee must be someone who respects our laws, follows the science, and understands the realities of what coal mining pollution does to surrounding communities. As a West Virginian, I will demand nothing less to keep my water and air safe for me and my family,” Price said in the statement.
In 2011, Gardner testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources on the Obama administration’s Stream Protection Rule, which tightened regulations on surface coal mining.
The rule went on to be finalized in 2016 before it was overturned by Trump this year. Throughout, Gardner remained a vocal critic.
He has also continued to use the ‘war on coal’ rhetoric, blaming regulations on Kentucky’s loss of mining jobs, though in various pieces Gardner has also acknowledged the role that other forces — like market factors and mechanization — have played.
Gardner did not immediately return a call for comment.