The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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April 27, 2013

EPA and mine permit: Rahall: Ruling has a ‘chilling effect’

Congressman warns agency could go after other businesses

— Emboldened by an appeals court edict that upheld its right to yank a West Virginia mining permit after its issuance, Rep. Nick Rahall says he fears the Environmental Protection Agency might go after noncoal businesses next.

This week, an appellate court decided the EPA was within its authority to cancel a permit issued for Spruce No. 1 mine, a mountaintop mining operation in Logan County.

Environmental forces hailed the ruling as right, but Rahall and fellow members of the West Virginia congressional delegation denounced it and warned it could trigger a domino effect across the coal industry.

A national Sierra Club spokesman, however, disputed this, pointing out in an interview that the EPA has only vetoed Army Corps of Engineers permits 13 times in four decades, and merely three times retroactively.

“It doesn’t matter, in my opinion,” Rahall, a Democrat, said Friday.

“The precedent has been set. It doesn’t give any sense of confidence to business, not only coal mining, but highway construction.”

As he interprets the Spruce ruling, Rahall said the EPA now would have the juice to start scrutinizing pollution permits in regard to any number of businesses and remove their ability to function.

“They could even take this beyond coal mining permits,” the 3rd District congressman said.

“It certainly has a chilling effect.”

Rahall warned of a snowball effect in coal production if the court ruling on retroactive action in permits isn’t reversed, but Sierra Club spokesman Ed Hopkins in Washington disagreed, saying, “It’s entirely speculative and contrary to 40 years of experience to suggest that the EPA is suddenly going to start using this authority indiscriminately.”

A day after the ruling, Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., announced a bipartisan measure in the Senate that would thwart the EPA’s efforts to remove a mining permit once it had been approved.

“Spruce had been negotiated over 10 years with EPA,” Rahall said. “Ten years!

“The company should have felt some sense of confidence in long-term planning and once they got confidence, they go forward.”

Rahall pointed out he managed to steer a similar bill as the one Manchin and Rockefeller are backing, through the House last year, but it never was taken up in the Senate.

Soon, the congressman said, he will revive his initial bill, that is “very comparable, if not identical” to his original one.

Rahall already has discussed the legislation with a key House leader, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and expects him to move quickly in getting it out to the floor for a vote.

“He knows of my strong interest in this,” Rahall added.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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