The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

January 17, 2011

Bill that would circumvent EPA coal permits to be introduced

CHARLESTON — A West Virginia bill to be introduced early this week aims to give a state agency the power to grant some coal mining permits and circumvent stalling by the EPA.

The bill would give the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection the authority to grant permits to coal mines that sell their coal for use only within state borders. The bill is being introduced by Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, and he said he has the maximum number of co-sponsors behind the bill.

“See, with the EPA, there’s regulations. They are not actually laws,” Howell said. “They never go through Congress and are never voted on by our representatives. That creates soft tyranny because we have no choice in the matter.”

The bill was filed by Howell on Friday and awaits final approval by each of the sponsors before it is introduced in the House, which is expected as soon as today.

In the past two years, nearly 80 surface mining permits were reviewed by the EPA, but only nine were approved. A spokesperson for the EPA explained that some of those permits were withdrawn and many remain under review.

“They’re using the right to review to deny the permits without really denying them,” Howell said. “They just keep them in a constant state of review so they never move forward.”

The Intrastate Coal and Use Act would strip the EPA of its right to review permits for intrastate coal operations. The regulatory requirements established by the Clean Water Act, Howell said, would still be enforced, but by WVDEP instead.

“I’m a conservationist. I understand that in a modern world, we have to use the environment, but we have to protect it at the same time,” Howell said. “The Clean Water Act gives us specifications for water. In some cases the EPA is trying to say the water has to be cleaner than before it flowed under your property, and that doesn’t make any sense.”

Environmentalists, Howell said, are not bad people, but an extreme and often vocal contingent of the group seem to have seized control of the EPA and the Obama administration.

“There’s a lot of good people who care about the environment, but there are some out there on the extreme fringe that don’t want us to have electricity; they don’t want us to use cars,” Howell said. “Basically, they want us to live in the caveman days.”

He said often, the EPA has overstepped its authority in West Virginia coal matters. Several West Virginia lawmakers have been recently coming out against the EPA. Then-Gov. Joe Manchin recently filed a lawsuit against the EPA for similar actions.

Howell said this bill will move the process along quicker.

“Court cases take years and years,” Howell said. “If this bill passes the House and then passes the Senate, as soon as Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signs it off, this is the law and those mines can open up immediately and we aren’t waiting on court.”

Howell said he is utilizing the U.S. Constitution’s Ninth and 10th amendments that guarantee states and their people the powers not enumerated in the Constitution. The interstate commerce clause that gives federal regulators authority over environmental issues would not apply to intrastate commerce, he said.

The bill also requires that a sample from every vein of coal and every West Virginia source used at a facility producing a chemically altered coal product would be placed on record at the WVDEP to verify West Virginia origin of the state’s coal products. The law would affect not only coal, but all of its chemically altered products.

“I think it has a very good chance. I think with the EPA doing what they did with Spruce Mine No. 1, it actually helped the bill,” Howell said.

Last week, the EPA used its authority under the Clean Water Act to halt Spruce Mine No. 1, the largest proposed surface mining project in West Virginia. The outright denial of the permit was only the 12th such case since 1972.

The EPA announcement provoked a negative response from several lawmakers, including Congressman Nick Rahall, Sen. Joe Manchin, Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Gov. Tomblin.

The bill has the maximum number of co-sponsors in the West Virginia House and includes Howell, Delegate Linda Sumner, R-Raleigh; Delegate Ray Canterbury, R-Greenbrier; Delegate Carol Miller, R-Cabell; Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell; Delegate John N. Ellem, R-Wood; Delegate Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and Walter E. Duke, R-Berkeley, Finance Chair Harry Keith White, D-Mingo; Steven Kominar, D-Mingo, and Rupert Phillips Jr., D-Lincoln.

Howell pointed out he has bipartisan support of the bill.

Though the EPA is likely to challenge the Intrastate Coal and Use Act, Howell said, the proposed legislation “absolutely passes Constitutional muster.” He said the Goldwater and Cato Institutes have reviewed the bill and find it appropriate under the terms of the U.S. Constitution.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, Howell said, wants a copy of the bill for consideration as a piece of model legislation.

“If we don’t exercise our rights, we essentially lose them,” Howell said. “This will make West Virginia a stronger state. It will make us a better place to do business. It all comes back to doing what’s best for the people of West Virginia.”

Howell said the West Virginia Coal Association estimates the EPA’s delay in permitting has cost the state between 500 and 1,000 direct coal mining jobs. He said what he is proposing “truly is a jobs bill for West Virginia.”

— E-mail: tkuykendall@register-herald.com

1
Text Only
Latest News
  • forum1 VIDEO: Meet the Candidates

    ABOUT THE FORUM:
    The Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce hosted a Meet the Candidates forum Thursday morning at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.

    April 25, 2014 2 Photos

  • Forum: U.S. Senate and House

    U.S. Senate
    The lone candidate for U.S. Senate to attend the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce Meet the Candidate Forum, David Wamsley, described himself as “the most liberal candidate, the most conservative candidate and the most moderate candidate” in the race. Wamsley said he believes each individual issue should be dealt with on its merits and not because of partisan politics.

    April 25, 2014

  • Forum: House of Delegates

    District 28
    Democratic House of Delegates candidates Jeffry Pritt and James Brown focused on issues dealing with the efficiency of the Legislature, crime, infrastructure and taxes.

    April 25, 2014

  • Forum: Board of Education

    Perennial board of education issues of technology, consolidation and truancy were among the questions dealt with Thursday by candidates for a seat on the Raleigh County Board of Education.

    April 25, 2014

  • After being line-item vetoed from state budget, Meadow Bridge to get $50,000 from WVDOE

    After the prospect was initially vetoed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in March, Fayette County School Superintendent Keith Butcher announced this week that the county will indeed receive funds for Meadow Bridge High School after all.

    April 25, 2014

  • ARH, BARH registered nurses to stage one-day strike

    A national labor union announced Thursday that registered nurses at Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital will join colleagues at Appalachian Regional Hospital in Hazard, Ky., in staging a one-day strike May 1.

    April 25, 2014

  • expressway Coalfields Expressway developments detailed by WVDOT

    A convoy of press, public and politics raised clouds of dust along an unfinished corridor of the long-awaited Coalfields Expressway Thursday during an open tour of the construction zone.

    April 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mercer County firefighters batting three different brush fires

    Firefighters are currently on the scene of at least three brush fires now burning in rural areas of Mercer County.

    April 24, 2014

  • BeverlyMagnumMUG.jpg Woman who attempted to rob bank at gunpoint captured in Tennessee

    A woman who attempted to rob a Bluefield bank at gunpoint has been captured in Tennessee , police said Thursday.

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Former federal prison worker pleads guilty to sex offense

    A former federal prison employee pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Beckley to engaging in abusive sexual contact with a female inmate.

    April 24, 2014