Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Judge strikes down ‘guidance’ that EPA
used to block many coal mining permits
By Al Cross
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
The Environmental Protection Agency exceeded its authority by setting a standard for water quality downstream from surface coal mines in Appalachia, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by coal interests and states.
Walton said EPA has “only a limited role” in setting specific standards for states that have the authority to enforce federal water-pollution and strip-mining laws. EPA had used electrical conductivity, which increases with the amount of salty minerals in water, to block permits for dozens of mines in Kentucky and West Virginia. It did not go through the usual process of writing a regulation, instead issuing a “guidance” to state agencies and the Army Corps of Engineers, which also enforces the Clean Water Act.
The ruling was “another blow to the Obama administration’s crackdown on mountaintop removal” coal mining, writes Ken Ward Jr. in The Charleston Gazette. “In January, Walton threw out EPA’s plans to work with other agencies to more closely scrutinize certain mining-related water pollution permits for valley fill waste piles. And in March, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, also in the District of Columbia, overturned EPA’s veto of the largest mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history. EPA is appealing Jackson’s ruling.” It is likely to appeal Walton’s too, reports Manuel Quinones of Environment & Energy News.
Ward says Walton “noted the obvious: that it was unlikely his decision would end the growing debate over mountaintop removal’s impact on the environment and public health, or on the future of coal in the region. Walton said it was not for him to decide “how to best strike a balance between, on the one hand, the need to preserve the verdant landscapes and natural resources of Appalachia and, on the other hand, the economic role that coal mining plays in the region.” (Read more)
Editor’s note: Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear issued the following statement in regards to the ruling.
“Today’s action by the federal court is a victory for coal miners who have seen mines close and their jobs put in jeopardy due, in part, to the actions of the federal EPA.
The ruling in U.S. District Court confirms my administration’s long-held position that the federal EPA overreached its authority and essentially halted three dozen pending coal permits in Kentucky – permits that were met with erratic and unpredictable changes in EPA standards. My Energy and Environment Cabinet has worked tirelessly with the EPA to resolve these issues. However, the EPA has turned a deaf ear to our reasoning and, instead, chose to illegally block action on these pending permits. Today, the District Court agreed that the EPA’s actions were wrong.
As I have stated time and again, Kentucky can and does mine coal while meeting the legal standards to protect Kentucky’s environment. I urge the EPA to act now to release these permits and allow Kentucky’s coal miners to get back to work.”
This story was republished from The Rural Blog, a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues, and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.