A federal judge in West Virginia ruled Monday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must comply with a federal code requiring the agency to evaluate the impact of its air pollution regulations on jobs. 

U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey agreed with Murray Energy Corporation and its subsidiaries that the EPA's actions have caused harm to coal mining communities. 

“In this case, the plaintiffs have alleged that the actions of the EPA have had a coercive effect on the power generating industry, essentially forcing them to discontinue the use of coal," the ruling said. "This Court finds these allegations sufficient to show that the injuries claimed by the plaintiffs are fairly traceable to the earlier actions of the EPA."

The EPA argued any injury caused to the plaintiffs would only be traceable to earlier EPA actions, not the failure of the EPA to conduct evaluations of job loss, but Judge Bailey disagreed. 

The civil action suit said the plaintiffs combined employ more than 7,200 workers and comprise the largest underground coal mining operation in the U.S. The plaintiffs allege the EPA's actions have caused a reduced market for coal, which has threatened the economic vitality of the companies and their employees. 

The plaintiffs' expert, John Deskins, who assembles West Virginia's annual Economic Outlook, said the EPA's Clean Air Act regulations have and will continue to affect the market for coal. 

He reported national reduction in coal production levels between 2008 and 2015, with a sharp acceleration in coal losses in 2015, coming "as a direct result of the regulatory policy change" elected in one of EPA's core utility strategy rules. 

Deskins pointed to the harm caused in Boone County, where a sharp reduction in coal production preceded a 65 percent reduction in coal employment, and a 27 percent reduction in local employment overall. He said this shows how "heavily localized concentration of coal production losses is leading to devastating effects on entire communities."

Judge Bailey ordered the EPA to file within 14 days a plan and schedule for compliance to the federal code, both generally and in the specific area of the effects of its regulation on the coal industry. 

— Email: wholdren@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @WendyHoldren

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