A bill filed in the House of Representatives this week would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from retroactively vetoing water permits as it did earlier this month with one of the nation’s largest mountaintop mining operations.
The bill introduced by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), with bipartisan support, also aims to reverse that permit veto, Greenwire reports for the New York Times.
On January 13 the EPA said it is revoking a water permit for the Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County, West Virginia because it would pollute water, harm wildlife and hurt Appalachian communities in West Virginia.
Arch has planned to invest $250 million in Spruce No. 1, creating 250 jobs, but the mine has been delayed by lawsuits since it was permitted in 2007.
Mining already underway in a small portion of the Spruce site won’t be affected by the EPA ruling, which prohibits new, large-scale operations in other areas.
The coal-mining industry directly employs 31,000 in Appalachian states and produces about 11 percent of the nation’s coal, Greenwire said.
Opponents of mountaintop mining say it degrades the landscape and can leach toxins into waterways.
“For years, the EPA has been bullying coal companies and the workers they employ,” McKinley said in a statement. “But this isn’t just about the Spruce Mine. If their new policy of retroactive revocation is allowed to stand, dozens of heavily-regulated industries and hundreds of thousands of American jobs hang in the balance.”
The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) and Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio).
McKinley is a freshman congressman who won a seat held by Democrats for more than 40 years, Greenwire said.
Democratic U.S. senator Joe Manchin, a former West Virginia governor whose administration sued the EPA last year over its more stringent regulation of mountaintop removal coal mining, called the ruling “fundamentally wrong’’ and “a shocking display of overreach.’’
Joan Mulhern, an attorney with environmental lawyers Earthjustice, told Greenwire that the bill would probably fail to reverse the EPA’s permit revocation, because courts generally disapprove of retroactive laws.
“The Spruce permit is gone. It has been vetoed. It is a final action,” Mulhern said. “That’s not to say they couldn’t reapply sometime in the future, but the permit that has been issued has been legally revoked by EPA, and it’s gone. And I don’t believe it’s in Congress’ power to retroactively revive a permit that no longer exists.”
Mulhern said the EPA has also received thousands of public comments in favour of stopping the mine.
But the mine’s owner, Arch Coal, is likely to amend its court filing to try to overturn the EPA’s decision.