The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

May 8, 2013

Rahall Report

Standing with miners against federal stranglehold

Our state is proud of its coal mining heritage and of its coal miners.

Those individuals who toil in dangerous conditions, many far below the surface of the Earth, to extract the energy that fuels our nation’s economy are hard-working, courageous, patriotic folks. I have long acknowledged that coal is a valuable natural resource but that our far more valuable natural resource is the coal miner.

Long-running legal skirmishes – lawsuit on top of lawsuit – challenging coal mine permitting in our state have, for decades, unfairly and inhumanely, left coal miners and their families constantly looking over their shoulders, waiting to be told that their mine was shutting down and their paychecks were stopping.

Then along came the current EPA leadership. It could have chosen a path of research and development, of pursuing cleaner technologies and better mining methods. It could have chosen a path of reason, a course that could have calmed tensions in our coal mining communities. Instead, it chose what may be the most flagrantly offensive attack aimed squarely at undoing coal.

The agency singled out one region of the country, in fact, largely just four states, and imposed a wholly new permitting regime. It has been usurping the legal authorities of other federal agencies, and brazenly misusing and abusing its regulatory

powers to put a stranglehold on coal mine permitting in Appalachian states, including West Virginia.

Its tactics have wreaked havoc on our communities, rather than breaching gaps. Fortunately, the courts have, until recently, provided some balance with decisions that have served to help check the EPA’s abuses.

Then, however, came the recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. That court found that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to retroactively veto Clean Water Act permits previously issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, as EPA did with the Spruce Mine permit in Logan County in January 2011.

That decision is cause for great concern.

It could open the floodgates to disrupt coal mining and other activities in West Virginia and elsewhere by granting the EPA unprecedented and seemingly limitless authority over Clean Water Act 404 permits. The Court, in this decision, gives license to the EPA to retroactively veto any Clean Water Act 404 permit “whenever” the administrator deems necessary, rendering all such permits for any range of industrial or construction activities throughout the country completely meaningless.

This veto reaches well beyond one coal mine; 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. According to this decision, there is nothing to prevent this EPA, or any future EPA, from reaching back to veto a previously granted permit whenever the EPA administrator chooses to do so.

This decision undercuts the Clean Water Act authority vested by Congress in the Corps of Engineers and would upend the traditional balance that has existed between the states and the federal government in the permitting process. This ruling makes clear that Congressional action will be needed.

That is why I will soon be reintroducing the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act, legislation the U.S. House of Representatives approved last year to prevent the EPA from using the guise of clean water as a means to disrupt coal mining as they have now done with respect to the Spruce Mine in Logan County.

I have been proud to stand in the trenches and fight with our miners and I am not about to break rank with them. American workers want to work. Jobs are hard to come by these days. This government ought not be a party to eliminating the ones that still exist.

(Rahall represents West Virginia’s 3rd District.)

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