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McConnell, two other senators push to speed up coal mine permits

Mar. 03, 2011 @ 09:30 PM

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Alleging that the Obama administration is engaged in a “backdoor means of shutting down coal mines,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell joined two other Washington lawmakers on Thursday in introducing legislation that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to move faster in granting federal permits needed to open coal mines.

McConnell and Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma jointly introduced the Mining Jobs Protection Act.

They weren’t the only Republicans taking aim at the Obama administration’s EPA this week.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, the Kentucky Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, chided the EPA for “running roughshod” over the nation’s small businesses, including Appalachian coal companies.

“In fact, I believe EPA is headed in the wrong direction with an aggressive and overzealous regulatory agenda that far exceeds the authority it’s been granted,” Rogers said in a statement Thursday.

And in the Kentucky capital this week, state lawmakers thumbed their noses at the agency by passing an apparently unenforceable resolution declaring the Bluegrass State a “sanctuary” from federal environmental rules. The resolution was intended to send a message to EPA that state lawmakers are frustrated with “over-regulation” that they believe is costing jobs.

McConnell’s bill would give the EPA up to 60 days to accept or reject permit applications so that mining companies aren’t left waiting indefinitely to learn whether they’ll be allowed to open new operations or to expand existing ones.

He said the EPA, under the Obama administration, has essentially used the permitting process of the federal Clean Water Act against the mining industry. Paul said the EPA’s “war on coal” is costing jobs in Kentucky.

Inhofe is the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which will consider the bill.

“The EPA has turned the permitting process into a backdoor means of shutting down coal mines by sitting on permits indefinitely, thus removing any regulatory certainty,” McConnell said in a Senate floor speech Thursday. “What they’re doing is outside the scope of their authority and the law and represents a fundamental departure from the permitting process as originally envisioned by Congress.”

Austin Hall, an organizer for the environmental group Appalachian Voices, objected Thursday to a shortened timeframe for the EPA to evaluate permit applications.

“The EPA is taking the proper and needed steps to scientifically evaluate these permits and to seriously take into consideration the impacts that mines in Appalachia will have on adjacent communities, to ensure the water quality is protected, to ensure that livelihoods are protected and to ensure that property is protected,” he said.

McConnell, R-Ky., charged that industries other than coal are at risk, too.

“The out-of-control EPA is already costing the people of Kentucky jobs and their war on coal could cost us even more,” Paul, a Republican, said in a statement.

Paul declared that he and McConnell “are working to end this abuse by the EPA, and stop the Obama administration from killing jobs in Kentucky and other coal-producing states.”

Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett praised the lawmakers for taking on an EPA that he accused of destabilizing the mining industry.

“The serious concern here is that appointed bureaucrats are holding pending permits to mine coal hostage with no timeline for approval, creating greater uncertainty, and keeping Kentuckians from going to work,” Bissett said, echoing the senators’ remarks.

Hall of Appalachian Votes said the McConnell-Paul-Imhofe proposal goes even farther than a similar measure, dubbed the EPA Fair Play Act, filed last month by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Manchin argued in filing his bill that the EPA had overstepped its authority in vetoing a Clean Water Act permit that the Army Corps of Engineers had issued for West Virginia’s largest mountaintop removal mine, Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 mine. Manchin’s bill, similar to one filed by West Virginia’s U.S. House delegation, would prohibit vetoes of properly vetted permits.

Environmentalists oppose both measures.
 

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