By Mannix Porterfield
A move to force the Environmental Protection Agency to act promptly on pending coal mining permits is afoot in Congress, led by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Last week, an appellate court held that the EPA was within its authority to retroactively cancel a 404 permit issued years earlier to Arch Coal at its Spruce No. 1 mine, a mountaintop mining operation in Logan County.
That decision provoked a mass outcry in the state, chiefly by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
Capito, R-W.Va., and McConnell, R-Ky., said the EPA’s “overreach” is impacting the industry negatively in their respective states.
“This administration is doing everything it can to destroy the coal industry,” Capito charged Tuesday.
“From President Obama stating that he wants to ‘bankrupt’ it to the EPA holding the permitting process hostage, this administration is standing in the way of economic growth and driving up hardworking West Virginians’ electric bills.”
Rahall immediately criticized the court’s decision, warning that it would have a ripple effect throughout the coal industry, if permits can be yanked after they had been approved by the EPA.
But a leading environmental group, the Sierra Club, disagreed, noting that the federal agency had applied its veto authority only 13 times since 1972 over permits approved initially by the Army Corps of Engineers and only three times was this action taken retroactively.
Even so, Rahall contended that the precedent had been set with Spruce No. 1 and the EPA would have unbridled power to reach into other industries as well.
Agreeing with that, Capito and McConnell said the court’s decision would impose a “cloud of uncertainty” over any business or individual.
“That is why I will be introducing legislation in the House that pushes back against the EPA’s overreach into the permitting process by reinstating the vital roles that states play in finding the proper balance between jobs and the environment,” Capito said.
Capito said the bill she is crafting with McConnell would put the EPA “on the block by forcing them to make a decision on the issuance of new permits within a specified time.”
By sitting on permits indefinitely, McConnell said the EPA has turned the permitting process into “an illegitimate, back-door means to shut down coal mines permanently.
“By playing the game of ‘run out the clock,’ they have put many Kentucky mining operations into limbo and cost Kentucky thousands of jobs and over $123 million in coal severance money,” the Senate Republican leader said.
“So, if this administration won’t rein the EPA in, Congress will. Congress must.”
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