Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 23, 2012

Congress cleaning up ‘glorious mess’ of EPA mine permit

By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — After floundering through some challenging times in recent months driven by low demands for thermal (power generating) coal due to a mild winter coupled with reduced demands for metallurgical (steel making) coal due to pressures on the international economy, along with an adversarial regulatory climate, coal industry leaders received some reassuring news on the regulatory front Friday.

A U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the Washington, D.C., District, entered an order on Friday, finding that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to retroactively veto a coal mining permit as the agency did last year when it revoked Arch Coal’s Mingo Logan Spruce Mine Permit, Section 404 Clean Water Act permit. Jackson found that the EPA’s action ran counter to the “unambiguous Congressional directive” in the Clean Water Act.

“This is great news,” U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said in a telephone interview from Washington. “The District Court found that the EPA ran far afield of its authority to interpret the Clean Water Act.”

Griffith said that he and others in Congress have been working to reverse “the glorious mess the EPA has made of out economy by overstepping its mandate.” He applauded the federal court for its ruling. “It’s a big day,” he said. Hopefully, it will continue. The EPA is out of control.”

Rick Taylor, president of the Pocahontas Coal Association said the ruling is “good news,” for the coal industry. “This news comes at a time when our industry seemed to be surrounded by bad news every direction that you looked in,” he said. “The District Court’s ruling just verifies what we in the coal industry have been saying all along. The EPA overstepped its authority when it revoked a surface mine permit that had already gone through the rigorous permitting process.”

The court found EPA’s permit revocation, “illogical and impractical,” and found that its ruling is “contrary to the language, structure and legislative history section 404 as a whole,” according to excerpts of the decision provided by Griffith’s office. “It is further unreasonable to sow a lack of certainty into a system that was expressly intended to provide finality,” according to the extract.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., applauded the court’s actions, “for stating clearly and unequivocally that a bureaucratic agency like the EPA cannot run the lives of hardworking Americans,” Manchin was quoted in a press release as stating. “I always knew that the EPA’s decision to retroactively veto a coal mining permit for the Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County was fundamentally wrong and an unprecedented act by the federal government.”

Manchin’s first piece of legislation in the Senate was the “EPA Fair Play Act.” He had already filed a lawsuit against the EPA when he was serving as governor of West Virginia.

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a press release that the district court’s ruling, “is a huge victory for West Virginia and our coal miners.” He also called on Lisa Jackson, administrator of the EPA to: “Issue our permits so that we can put our people back to work and provide the resources that will power America.”

Arch Coal worked for a decade to address the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concerns about the Spruce No. 1 Mine’s impact on the environment before it issued Mingo Logan’s Section 404 Permit in 2007, according to Tomblin’s press release. Three years later, the EPA revoked the permit.

Tomblin stated in an amicus (friend of the court) brief that the revocation was “devastating to the southern coal fields and our entire state,” according to Tomblin’s press release.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com