Rahall legislation would limit EPA authority on mine permits - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Rahall legislation would limit EPA authority on mine permits

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's authority in Clean Water Act permitting would be limited by legislation reintroduced by Congressman Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va.

The Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2013 would place limits on the agency's ability to rescind Clean Water Act 404 dredge and fill permits previously issued by the Army Corps of Engineers.  Rahall is joined on the bill by Congressman John Mica, R-Fla.

The EPA in January 2011 rescinded a dredge and fill permit previously issued for Arch Coal subsidiary Mingo Logan Coal Co.'s Spruce Fork No. 1 mine in Logan County.

The permit, issued in January 2007 after a multi-agency process, was said to be the only surface mining operation for which the lengthy and expensive environmental impact statement process had been conducted.

It was the largest surface mine permit in the state, allowing the company to mine about 2,300 acres and to fill more than eight miles of streams.

When the agency pulled the permit — based, it said, on new evidence of significant cumulative impacts on the environment of multiple mining operations — the company had made investments based on its belief that it had jumped all of the environmental hurdles.

Rahall's reintroduction of the bill, first introduced after the EPA action in 2011, follows a court ruling last month that affirmed the EPA's action.

The company sued in 2011 to regain its permit, and a March 2012 court ruling overturned the EPA's action. But the agency appealed and, last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the EPA acted within its authority.

"I do not believe that it was ever the intent of Congress to vest such sweeping power in the EPA, and if our intent was too vague when the statute was written decades ago, we must make it crystal clear today," Rahall said in his media release. 

In another provision, the bill would speed the permitting of surface mines, limiting the EPA's ability to impose additional criteria over and above those of the agency-approved state programs.

"Similar legislation I offered last year to restore the traditional balance between states and the federal government in the Clean Water Act permitting process was approved by the House on a bipartisan basis," Rahall said in the release. "But new urgency has now been injected into this issue.  If the EPA can retroactively veto any Clean Water Act 404 permit ‘whenever' the administrator determines it necessary, all such permits for any range of industrial or construction activities throughout the country are rendered completely meaningless. These permits are issued after years of study and consideration and should not be allowed to be taken away when the political winds shift."