By Mannix Porterfield
A second effort is afoot by Rep. Nick Rahall to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency in its zeal to regulate coal mine production, a move hailed by an industry leader in West Virginia as “a great piece of legislation.”
Rahall introduced the measure Tuesday, close on the heels of an appellate court’s edict that held the EPA could revisit a permit issued earlier for the Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County.
“In recent years, the EPA has taken direct aim at the Appalachian coalfields, using and abusing seemingly every regulatory tool in their arsenal to stymie, disrupt and prevent coal mining,” the West Virginia Democrat said.
Rahall called the decision by EPA to yank the Spruce permit “their most brazen assault on coal miners’ jobs.”
Moreover, the ruling in April by the U.S. Court of Appeals upholding the EPA’s action will open the floodgates to not only close mining operations but “all manner of industrial activity with an unrestricted flick of their veto pen,” the 3rd District congressman said.
Rahall’s proposal, known as the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act, is meant to put limits on the federal agency’s ability to veto dredge and fill permits that are issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, as the EPA had done with the Spruce installation.
“It’s a great piece of legislation,” Chris Hamilton, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said in Beckley after addressing the Rotary Club.
“Kudos to Congressman Rahall for not only introducing this year’s version, but he championed the same legislation two years ago which successfully passed the House of Representatives, only to stall in the U.S. Senate.”
Hamilton said the Rahall bill is meant to prevent the EPA from backtracking on permits that have been issued within the law.
Spruce’s mining permit was five years in developing and was in effect for three years until EPA pulled the plug, Hamilton said.
“Here they are today, with a couple of hundred people working, equipment on the ground, ready to go to work,” the coal association official said.
“They had the permit three years and now EPA wants to come in and take it back. That’s really a bad precedent, not only in coal but all other businesses that require EPA approval.”
Hamilton said the Rahall proposal would shore up the rights of states to deal with water purity and other environmental issues.
Rahall’s bill never hit the floor of the Senate last year, and Hamilton said he hopes Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., can form a coalition to get it moving this year.
“New urgency has now been injected into this issue,” Rahall said.
“If the EPA can retroactively veto any Clean Water Act 404 permit ‘whenever’ the administrator determines it necessary, all such permits for any range of industrial or construction activities throughout the country are rendered completely meaningless.”
Rahall said far more goes into the cancellation of a permit than a piece of paper.
“They are taking away the ability of our coal miners to earn an honest living and provide for their families, and it is for their sake I am filing this legislation today,” he added.
Hamilton told Beckley Rotarians that coal reflects a $3.6 billion payroll in West Virginia, some $500 million in severance taxes, $490 million in general taxes and impacts about 63,000 jobs.
All together, he said, the industry wields a $26 billion impact in the state’s economy.
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