By Kenric Ward of the Virginia Watchdog
Renewing charges that the Obama administration is waging a “war on coal,” congressional Republicans are striking back with legislation targeting the Environmental Protection Agency.
Two Alpha Natural Resources miners: a dying breed?
Amid the latest round of mine closures, the gambit highlights a political divide between West Virginia‘s Democratic senators.
The U.S. House is scheduled to take up a bill Thursday that would ease federal regulations and give states more authority over air and water permits.
House Resolution 3409 includes House Resolution 2018, the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act. That measure passed the U.S. House last year with bipartisan support, but has languished in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.
“The heavy-handed regulatory regime championed by this administration and EPA is strangling the economy, driving up energy prices for consumers, and putting people out of work,” said Florida Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica.
Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the new legislation will bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions and restrict planned EPA rules regarding coal ash disposal and management.
Coal ash is formed when coal is burned in boilers that generate steam for power generation and industrial applications, according to the EPA.
The measure also will limit the EPA’s ability to veto Army Corps of Engineers‘ dredge-and-fill permits, if the EPA has approved them unless the state agrees with the veto.
Last year, in an unprecedented action, the EPA revoked one of these Section 404 permits at the Spruce Mine in West Virginia — even though the agency approved it, and the permit conditions had not been violated.
A federal district court judge later overturned the EPA ruling, excoriating the agency for overstepping its authority and using “magical thinking” to justify its action. (Read the decision here.)
“What’s the value of a permit if there’s no certainty whether it will be revoked later for no reason?” Mica asked.
Jim Laurita, president and CEO of the Morgantown, W.Va.-based Mepco Inc. coal mining company, said all manner of environmental permitting has become a nightmare under the Obama EPA.
“Renewals used to take months — now it’s years. This is very troubling for business and unsettling for banks,” Laurita said.
Laurita, chairman of the West Virginia Coal Association, said the EPA has effectively “ignored” states’ rights to participate in environmental programs.
“The EPA is micromanaging. It’s making it more difficult to mine and burn fossil fuels,” he said.
It’s also generating layoffs.
Morgantown-based Alpha Natural Resources announced Tuesday it will shut eight mines in West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, slashing 1,200 jobs.
Earlier, mines in West Virginia and Ohio laid off more than 250 workers, and blamed the White House.
“The failed energy policies of the Obama administration and the ‘war on coal’ that the president and his Democrat supporters have unleashed are the direct causes of this layoff,” Powhatan Mine No. 6 mine general manager Ronald Koontz told the Wheeling, W.Va., Intelligencer. The mine is operated by Ohio Valley Coal Co.
“Unfortunately, for us, this is just the beginning (of) the work force reductions,” Koontz said.
West Virginia’s Democratic senators are split on the House gambit.
Sen. Joe Manchin, who sued the federal government over EPA rules while he was governor, supports the states-rights approach.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller does not. Vincent Morris, a spokesman for the five-term senator, dismissed the House bill as “mostly for political purposes.”
“Is anyone taking it seriously?” Morris asked Virginia Watchdog.
Manchin, who is up for re-election this fall and skipped the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., said, “Achieving true energy independence demands that we not only start realizing the importance that coal has in achieving this goal, it means we must also stop demonizing (it).”
Liberal and environmental groups maintain that the EPA is just doing its job. The leftist Think Progress website posted a blog Tuesday defending the administration. “Since taking office, President Obama has proposed and adopted significant pollution reductions protective enough to safeguard public health as required by the Clean Air Act,” the post stated.
EPA officials did not respond to questions late Tuesday.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com.