Standing up for W.Va. coal miners

My Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in the House of Representatives, on which I serve as the top Democrat, recently voted to advance legislation that puts an end to the EPA’s practice of retroactively revoking coal permits, like it did with the Spruce Mine in Logan County.

In recent years, the EPA has taken direct aim at the Appalachia coalfields using and abusing seemingly every regulatory tool in its arsenal to stymie, disrupt and prevent coal mining.

Under practices by the current EPA, permits for surface mines throughout the Appalachian States have been bottled up for months. But perhaps its most brazen assault on coal miners’ jobs occurred in January 2011, when the Agency retroactively vetoed a previously issued Clean Water Act permit for the Spruce Mine, despite having participated in the process leading to its issuance in the first place.

When the EPA issued its veto, I had been working with the mine company, the miners, and their families in opposing the action for months. I said at the time that this veto reaches well beyond coal; it threatens the economic security of every business that relies upon these Clean Water Act permits and that depends upon a fair and consistent permitting process.

I said at the time that it was never the intent of Congress to vest such sweeping power in the EPA. If the EPA can retroactively veto any Clean Water Act permit whenever the Administrator determines it necessary, all such permits for any range of industrial or construction activities from highways to shopping centers – throughout the country are rendered completely meaningless.

As I have noted previously, and 27 State Attorneys General concurred recently in an amicus brief for the Supreme Court, such arbitrary power threatens every ongoing and future public construction project that requires a Clean Water Act permit, which puts billions of taxpayer dollars and much-needed jobs at greater risk.

In 2012, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against EPA, accusing it of “magical thinking” in justifying its claim that it has the right to retroactively veto a permit. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit overturned that ruling last year.

I said at the time that the decision would open the floodgates to disrupting coal mining in West Virginia and that Congressional action is needed.

Last year, I introduced the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act, legislation approved by the House, at my urging, on a bipartisan basis in the previous Congress, to prevent the EPA’s overreach in the Clean Water Act permitting process. I was joined by Rep. John Mica, a Republican from Florida and former Committee Chairman, in introducing the bipartisan bill.

My bill would place limits on EPA’s ability to veto dredge and fill permits previously issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, as EPA did with the Spruce Mine permit. It also would help to speed up the permitting process and rein in EPA, which has imposed new criteria for permits that have stymied the process.

When the Supreme Court recently opted not to review the appellate court’s ruling, which affirmed the EPA’s retroactive revocation of a mining permit for the Spruce Mine, I again pushed for Congressional action to put an end to the EPA’s Clean Water Act permitting overreaches – which resulted in the Committee’s approval of Rep. David McKinley’s bill to rein in the EPA’s veto authority.

My position on this matter has been consistent and unmistakably clear. The EPA’s overreach threatens coal industry jobs, but it’s also a direct threat to economic activity in communities across the country. If allowed to stand, this decision opens the door for the Agency to shut down a coal mine or stop all manner of industrial activity with an unrestricted flick of its veto pen.

The EPA is not merely taking away a piece of paper when it vetoes a permit. It is taking away the ability of our coal miners to earn an honest living and provide for their families. It is for their sake that I have been fighting all these years to rein in this abusive agency.

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) represents West Virginia’s Third Congressional District. For more information, contact Diane Luensmann at 202-225-3452, or visit rahall.house.gov.


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