Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

May 6, 2011

Congress holds EPA hearing

Committee says agency a threat to coal jobs, industry

BLUEFIELD — During a meeting with the Bluefield Daily Telegraph editorial board on Thursday, Acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said he was “not pleased with the EPA,” and noted that his predecessor, now U.S. Senator Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., filed a suit against the Environmental Protection Agency claiming that the agency “overstepped its bounds,” Tomblin said.

Earlier in the day on Thursday in Washington, D.C., the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment convened the first of a two-part hearing on the EPA’s “regulatory guidance on surface mining” as well as the economic impact of the “increasingly heavy-handed regulatory approach in the Appalachian region,” according to a press release from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“Recently, EPA revoked a Section 404 ‘dredge and fill’ permit for the Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan, three years after the permit was issued by the Army Corps of Engineers — in full agreement with EPA,” according to the House committee’s press release. “This action has raised serious questions about the extent of EPA’s authority, considering that the project was well underway when the permit was revoked.”

According to the press release, the EPA’s “unchecked actions will threaten one of every four coal mining jobs in the Appalachian region.” The committee’s stated purpose in calling for the hearings is “to receive testimony from state regulators, the mining industry, impacted businesses, economists and EPA on surface mining guidance and the issues surrounding it.” Speakers in the first hearing included Michael Gardner, general counsel of Oxford Resources, Dr. Leonard Peters, secretary of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, Teresa Marks, director Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and Hal Quinn, president, National Mining Association.

“The deliberate and disruptive policies that have slowed and stopped coal mines from receiving permits to open or expand have consequences that reverberate throughout the region,” Quinn was quoted as stating in a NMA press release. “The consequences begin with the coal supply chain and spread to those that benefit from low-cost coal energy.”

According to Quinn’s statement, in just two months, the backlog of permits had grown to 235 applications with a full 190 of them already having been considered complete by the Corps of Engineers. The NMA claimed that the EPA’s policies prompted the Energy Information Administration to drop productivity projections in Central Appalachian surface mines by as much as 20 percent.

“This represents a substantial regulatory penalty that will erode companies’ competitiveness and threaten more coal jobs,” according to Quinn’s quote in the NMA press release. He added that coal miners deserve an answer to the question as to “why their own government at times seems to put so much effort into working against them rather than supporting them and what they do for the country.”

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., the ranking Democrat on the committee was quoted in a press release as stating that coal miners are constantly concerned about their jobs. “The people of southern West Virginia love the natural beauty of our land,” Rahall was quoted as stating. “We want clean water and air. But we want jobs too. We do not condone coal companies failing to ensure the safety of their miners and the well-being of the communities in which they operate. That is simply wrong,” Rahall said.

“But it is also wrong for a federal agency to circumvent the law and treat guidance as binding policy, particularly when that policy targets only one industry in only one region of the country,” Rahall was quoted as stating.

Lisa Jackson, administrator of the EPA, Dr. David Sunding, University of California-Berkeley, Reed Hopped, Pacific Legal Foundation, Michael Carey, president of the Ohio Coal Association and Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce are scheduled to appear at the committee’s next hearing on May 11.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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