Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

March 30, 2014

Spruce Mine permit: Congressional action now a necessity

— — The U.S. Supreme Court of Appeals for reasons currently unknown has opted not to act on the controversial Spruce Mine permitting case. As a result, it’s now up to the elected members of Congress to do their job — and to right a tremendous wrong recently committed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Lawmakers — both in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives — must take immediate steps to pass legislation clarifying that once a permit is issued, the EPA cannot retroactively veto it. And to give credit where credit is due —  U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., acted quickly and introduced such a measure on the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would not hear the Spruce Mine permit case.

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.

In response to the EPA’s action — and the hundreds of good-paying jobs that were threatened — Republican West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey led a bipartisan group of 27 other states in an amicus, or friend of the court, brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to review the EPA’s retroactive veto of the Clean Water Act permit issued to the Spruce mine.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has opted not to review an appellate court’s ruling in the case. Morrisey says it is “always very difficult” to get a case heard by the Supreme Court. That’s why Congress must now act.

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, says he has received assurances from the committee’s chairman, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., that the panel will act on legislation to clarify that, once a permit is issued, the EPA cannot retroactively veto it. We would expect Rahall — working in conjunction with U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va. and U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va. — to get to work immediately on such a measure, which would stand a good chance of passage in the Republican-controlled House.

In fact, the House approved another critically important bill just this week that would prevent the Obama administration from imposing a stream-protection rule for coal mining that government experts say would eliminate thousands of jobs. House Republicans — backed by 10 Democrats — correctly cited a draft report by the agency indicating that the proposed rule would cost an estimated 7,000 jobs while slashing production across the country.

In the U.S. Senate, the measure jointly introduced by Manchin and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., also would limit the EPA’s role in reviewing Clean Water Act permits by prohibiting the EPA from preemptively or retroactively vetoing a permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Manchin’s bill faces a tougher uphill battle in the Democratic-controlled Senate. But he correct argues that it is simply good common sense to allow companies that have already been granted permits to continue the work they have already started. We agree. Any efforts by the EPA to stifle energy production and good-paying jobs must be stopped by Congress.

 

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