Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 15, 2013

Proposed Clean Water Act to rein control held by EPA

By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan measure introduced Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., seeks to rein in the federal Environmental Protection Agency as it relates to the Clean Water Act permitting process.

The measure, called the “Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2013,” would place limits on the EPA’s ability to veto dredge and fill permits previously issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, as the EPA recently did with the Spruce Mine permit in Logan County.

Rahall, the top Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, said the EPA’s action is threatening the future of coal mining jobs and communities across southern West Virginia.

“In recent years, the EPA has taken direct aim at the Appalachia coalfields using and abusing seemingly every regulatory tool in their arsenal to stymie, disrupt and prevent coal mining,” Rahall said. “But perhaps their most brazen assault on coal miner’s jobs occurred in January 2011, when the agency retroactively vetoed a previously issued Clean Water Act 404 permit for the Spruce Mine in Logan County. Last month’s decision by a U.S. Court of Appeals affirming EPA’s use of this authority now opens the door for the agency to shut down a coal mine or stop all manner of industrial activity with an unrestricted flick of their veto pen. I do not believe that it was ever the intent of Congress to vest such sweeping power in the EPA, and if our intent was too vague when the statute was written decades ago, we must make it crystal clear today.”

 Rahall said permits for surface mines throughout the region have been bottled up for months under current practices by the EPA. He said the measure introduced Tuesday with Mica would speed up the permitting process and rein in the EPA, which has imposed new criteria for permits that have stymied the process.

“Similar legislation I offered last year to restore the traditional balance between states and the federal government in the Clean Water Act permitting process was approved by the House on a bipartisan basis,” Rahall said.  “But new urgency has now been injected into this issue. 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. These permits are issued after years of study and consideration and should not be allowed to be taken away when the political winds shift.”

Rahall is the latest southern West Virginia lawmaker to introduce legislation targeting the EPA.

Last month, the EPA Fair Play Act was jointly reintroduced by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala., U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La..

The Senate-based measure would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from retroactively vetoing previously approved permits while protecting energy production, economic growth and job creation.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com