Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

June 25, 2014

Clean Water Act — House measure needs Senate support

— Lawmakers representing the coal-producing states of West Virginia and Ohio are taking another stab at a bipartisan bill aimed at preventing the federal Environmental Protection Agency from pre-emptively vetoing already approved Section 404 Clean Water Act permits.  

A bipartisan measure introduced last week by U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, aims to rein in the expanding use of Clean Water Act authorities by the EPA, which has been using its authority with increasing aggression against West Virginia coal mining. Rahall says concerns have also recently been raised by more than 184 stakeholders nationwide, including some from West Virginia, concerning this obvious overreach.

The measure is the latest effort by the Republican-controlled House to stop the federal overreach of the EPA. Unfortunately, most measures that clear the GOP controlled House fail to gain traction in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Rahall, a Democratic who is facing a strong challenge by Republican Evan Jenkins in West Virginia’s closely watched 3rd District House race, has been particularly active in recent weeks fighting the EPA. And as our current federal lawmaker representing the coalfield counties of West Virginia he most certainly should be.

 The bill introduced by Rahall and Gibbs aims to ensure adherence to proper permitting practices by “checking EPA’s ideological zeal to expand its authority,” Rahall said last week.

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act governs the permitting program administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Permits are necessary for dredge and fill activities in federal waters, including wetlands, and must be obtained for a wide variety of activities, including construction and mining, according to Rahall’s office.

However, while the Clean Water Act provides the EPA with the authority to veto an Army Corps permit, the EPA has clearly been pushing the boundaries in its use of its veto authority. The decision by the EPA in 2011 to retroactively veto permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers for Mingo Logan Coal Company’s Spruce surface mine nearly four years after they were granted sent a chilling message to coal-producing communities across southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.

That’s why congressional action is necessary to address this unacceptable overreach by the  EPA. Unfortunately, we still aren’t seeing much movement in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate when it comes these common-sense House measures — despite the best efforts of moderate Democrats like U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.

U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., who represents Virginia’s so-called “Fightin’ 9th” Congressional District in the U.S. House Representatives, says it will take a change in political party control in the U.S. Senate before the EPA issue can finally be addressed. He may be correct.

But as it stands now, it is far past time for the U.S. Senate to join the U.S. House of Representatives in fighting the administration’s war on coal.

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